I found Wicked Strong. Finally. For months, I had been talking about going to see the Jim Dandy winner. I hate to say it, yes, months. As the crow flies, he’d been living about two miles from me at Centennial’s Middleburg farm. I’ve jogged past his barn, driven past his paddock, talked about going to see him, planned on going to see him. Finally I stopped to say hello. Evidently, I even need deadlines to visit horses, as I knew he would be leaving soon. Better get there.
It had been a while. The last time I had seen him was when he was thrashing a feed tub against the corner of his stall at Saratoga, hours after been nabbed on the line by stablemate V. E. Day in the Travers.
I hate when people say a horse didn’t deserve to lose because it infers that the winner didn’t deserve to win. Both deserved it, but, I’ll admit I was rooting for Wicked Strong. He had been to the Derby and the Belmont in the spring, broke out in the Jim Dandy, then did all the dirty work in the Travers. He carried the stones up the hill and V. E. Day built the house. Either way, it was a nice house.
I watched the race between Jimmy and Shirley Jerkens. I’ll never forget it.
Months later, Wicked Strong stood in the corner of the first big paddock near the barn, staring off in the distance, toward the woods, over the Goose Creek, which was down there somewhere, into nothing. It was one of those stares that made you look as well, like there was something out there you were missing.
A biting wind bothered me, but certainly not him. I clicked off frames with my Canon, my finger tensing from the December chill. With the first few clicks, Wicked Strong flicked his ears. After that, he ignored me, ignored everything.
Under a Baker Blanket, four red bandages, the Jim Dandy winner and Travers runner-up walked gingerly over frozen ground, picking threads of grass gone dormant. His respite after unseating jockey Rajiv Maragh in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in September was winding down, another week or so, and then it was back to work.
Centennial Farm’s Paula Parsons had called Brian Hogan Horse Transportation for a trip to Florida to reunite with Jerkens. He should be gone by Christmas.
Back to work.
“He’s done great,” Parsons said last week. “He’s had his time.”
Parsons will exhale once he’s gone.
A delicate combination of aggression and ebullience, more kid than criminal, he’s a handful. Always has been. His antics as a yearling-turned-2-year-old at Centennial are legendary, as he’d throw his rider on the ground and wait for him to get back on and go again. Just a game.
Jerkens agonized at Saratoga each morning, trying to figure out how to keep the lid on his best 3-year-old colt. Blinkers helped, maturity contributed, he got better.
At 8:45 on a cold Thursday morning in December, Wicked Strong raised his head at the sky and turned up his top lip, like Ed McMahon laughing at a Johnny Carson joke on cue, then turned lazily toward the barn, his morning jaunt over.
See you in Florida.