Going Racing

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I wonder about the disconnect, the distance often. I wonder how it happened, why it happened. I’ve spent my life in both, actually it doesn’t feel like both, it’s one for me. Racing. Not flat racing or jump racing – just racing.

I understand the difference, I understand why some people love flat racing and some people love jump racing and I understand why people love both. What I don’t understand are the arrows launched across the divide. If the mountain is in peril, the snowboarders and skiers should stand together.

Saturday, it was about racing. It started with the annual Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point at the Voss’ farm in Monkton, Md. It’s one of those race meets where you know the guy directing traffic at the gate, you know the program seller, the announcer, the stewards, the starter, the turf accountants, you know everybody. If you don’t look busy, you’ll wind up with a job (I think every member of my family has started a race there at one time or another).

It’s part picnic, part family reunion, part rite of spring and all about racing, albeit, in a loose fashion. Maryland Hunt Cup winning jockey Mark Beecher, between races, walks out of a horse trailer and through the crowd carrying a fried chicken leg and a bottle of water. A horse winds up in the pond (and gets out safely). Bishop’s Castle and No Wunder finish in a photo finish at the wire, but there’s no photo finish, so it’s called a dead heat, everybody’s happy. Tricky Hat, winner of the John’s Call and Laurel Turf Cup, finishes fifth behind a 12-year-old maiden in both codes and three other claimers on the flat and the connections of Tricky Hat are ecstatic. Dr. John Fisher, once a rider, then a trainer and now an owner, watches his horse, Hockey Pop finish second, smiles and says “Perfect,” the same way Todd Pletcher said it after Always Dreaming won the Florida Derby.

With the Grand National, the Blue Grass, the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial and a gaggle of other graded stakes carded for the day, there was debate for many racegoers to where they would go on the day – stand in a field and watch timber races or venture east, west, south, north or simply ride the couch, television on the wall and computer at the touch. It was a tough call. And then it wasn’t as I leaned on a board fence, feet away from the first fence for the novice timber at Elkridge-Harford, another glorious afternoon at the races. Not flat, not jump, just racing.

After the races, Mimi Voss opened her house – win pictures from John’s Call at Saratoga to Your Sum Man at Far Hills hanging on the walls – and turned on the TV. She taped all the races – from the Grand National to the Ashland. I had a cheat sheet in my pocket, all the races worth watching that day in post position order. Horse breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys – fans – huddled in the living room, kneeling, squatting, hanging off the arms of the couches to watch races. We cheered the replay of the Grand National, an ovation worthy of a horse who jumped 30 fences and traversed 4 ½ miles, we applauded Irish War Cry like he was our own, and in a way he is, trained by Flatterer’s groom, Graham Motion and we scrambled to look up Irap’s record in the one Racing Form in the house, learning that he was a maiden.

We left dreaming of racing – our maiden winning the Blue Grass, our homebred winning the Wood or our timber topper winning the Edward S. Voss Memorial. The feeling was the same.