Do you dare think about it?
If you own a horse, train a horse or ride a horse, you have to think about it, right? What would you say? Would you keep it together? Who would you thank? Would you talk too fast? Would you read or go off the cuff? Would you wear a suit – sorry, which suit would you wear? Who would sit next to you? Who would come to town for it? Would you cry? Would you talk too fast? Would you talk too long? Would the people listen? What horse?
That’s what I think about before the Hall of Fame ceremony, usually in the minutes before it gets started, when the Hall of Fame members sign autographs and settle into their seats, when the new plaques lean on easels, ready to be hung.
That’s when my mind drifts…I think about one day, maybe one day a horse will come along good enough, maybe a Housebuster or Lure or Invasor or McDynamo or Tuscalee. The latter two, probably more realistic, but why not both? Unrealistic for sure, but this is an unrealistic game. As one of my allies always says about this game, “If you don’t think big at this, you’ll never think big.”
So, yes, I’ll admit, I dream an outlandish dream.
He was bred for stamina, from an old family line. His foal halter, brass plate unpolished, hangs in the tack room at the farm. He never misses an oat. Never has an abscess, a close nail or a fever. Trains like a soldier. Sleeps like a baby. He has speed if there is no pace. Patience when there is. He loves a fight in the afternoon but never in the morning. His trainer respects him, never works him on an off track, always gave him the winter off, beds him deep, cooks his oats every night. His jockey cajoles him and coddles him, knowing when to ask and when to demand. He travels America, then beyond. We live in awe, he never notices. The big horse wins everything.
The call comes, telling us he’s nominated. I get excited but know the odds. We don’t lobby for him, knowing our place, his place.
I look at his race record, yes, compare it to the others. Realize, it’s like picking a superhero, I put it away and try to think about something else. Then the phone rings months later and tells us the news. I sit back in my chair and smile, see him running past the window. He still doesn’t know or care. Just a horse, the perfect horse.
I bring my dad, my mom, my wife, my sister and my son. I make sure the nephews finish handing out the paper early, wash the ink off their hands. I convince my brother to put away the paper for a morning. We go to the Reading Room for breakfast, fresh fruit and hot coffee.
We talk about the old days, the old horses and the old grooms. Dad tells stories about Buddy Raines, Phil Goodwin and Carl Hanford. Mom tells the story about her son on the back of a couch, diapers and a fly swatter, announcing a race between Farmer’s Lot and Secretariat (Farmer’s Lot wins every time).
My sister listens, smiles and thinks about how horses consumed her childhood. Annie lets us tell our stories, knowing this is our day. Miles is old enough to enjoy them, not old enough to scoff at them.
After breakfast, we stroll across Union Avenue, the traffic stops, the sun shines, it’s cool, crisp, no humidity, fast and firm for the afternoon. We wander into the Hall of Fame, the young woman at the door nods and smiles, like she’s expecting us. We walk into the Hall, the chiseled plaques providing a slow dance with heroes.
The moment finally hits us. Our life’s goals complete. We walk into the pavilion, with plenty of time to see old friends and swap stories. We accept congratulations from our peers, sign a few autographs, wondering if it’s right to sign for a horse, he’s the one who got us here. We find our seats. Annie squeezes my hand. I recite what I have prepared, thinking humility, graciousness, alacrity and accuracy.
Finally, they call the big horse’s name. His exploits flash on the monitors around the building. We are awed yet again, it’s like it happened yesterday but we wonder where all the time went. People clap. I tuck my notes in my lapel pocket. I never look at them. The words roll, I don’t sweat, stammer or stumble. The big horse gets his due.