There is nothing quite so heartbreaking as a lost Triple, as coming up just short in the biggest race of your life, as watching your place in history go sailing by you and knowing you can do nothing to stop it, as coming away defeated on the day that was to be your crowning glory
AfleetAlex (left), High Limit (centre), and Scrappy T (right) in the 2005 Preakness Stakes’ final turn, just moments before Afleet Alex would clip heels with Scrappy T (who drifted out to the right), get down on his knees, and win the race - magically.
In honor of the ridiculous influx of baby pictures recently, here’s one from the vault
When 8-year-old mare Maggy Hawk gave birth to her third foal on May 9, 2002, the young mare immediately rejected her colt. In the 12 day interval before a nurse mare could be found, 9-year-old Lauren, daughter of breeder John Silvertand, hand fed the colt milk from an old Coors Lite bottle
This little colt, of course, grew up to be 2005 Preakness/Belmont winner and perennial fan favorite Afleet Alex
I don’t exactly remember, but in fourth grade (2005), my social studies teacher had us draw names out of this bucket for the Kentucky Derby that year. I had wanted Afleet Alex to win that year because I read a story in YoungRider about how, at the outset, the colt faced adversity: his mother became ill 24 hours after his birth and could no longer nurse him. She did supply him with colostrum and then his breeder’s daughter, Lauren (then nine) fed Afleet Alex from a Coors Light bottle the day after his mother became ill. The farm staff replaced the emergency bottle the next day. He continued bottle feeding for approximately 10 days until a nurse mare could be found.
But, as luck would have it, I was up sharpening colored pencils for a project we’d been assigned and I was the last one to receive a name. When I pulled final piece of paper out of the bucket, it said Giacomo. I had been devastated at first. I wanted Afleet Alex. But it would all work out on that first Saturday in May, 2005.
We were camping that weekend at some god-forsaken campsite whose name I have long since forgotten. The portable TV we took kept going in and out and I distinctly remember screaming and hollering at the TV, urging Jeremy Rose and Afleet Alex to the finish, begging the colt to hold on to the lead, even as Closing Argument made his rush at my bay colt. Then, out of nowhere, this gray flash comes running past them all and I remember breaking down and crying because Alex had lost. I remember hating, hating Giacomo for beating Alex. But as time went by, I realize he was only doing what he’d been bred to do and now, I realize that I have a special bond with the gray Derby winner for being the horse that I had selected all by luck.
Because of Giacomo and Afleet Alex in 2005, I was readily aware and ready for the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Of course, being the naive and unaware horse fan that I was, I had no idea there were end of the year championships in the Breeders’ Cup at the end of that year. All I knew about the Kentucky Derby that year was a bay colt by Storm Cat named Bluegrass Cat. Because of his name (Kentucky is nicknamed “The Bluegrass State”), I fell in love with the WinStar Farm-bred colt. But when my fifth grade teacher had us pulling names out of the hat or whatever, I was disappointed because I hadn’t gotten the colt I’d wanted to get for the second straight year. I don’t remember who I got (maybe it was the two horse, Steppenwolfer, or maybe not. I remember it having a 2 in the number, which means Steppenwolfer, Flashy Bull or Private Vow) but it wasn’t Bluegrass Cat.
I’d spent the night with my grandma and her husband that night and I had just come upstairs to the second floor when Tom Durkin was calling the stretch run. All of a sudden, I saw this gorgeous, glorious colt in Barbaro charging down the stretch 4, 5, 6 lengths in front as he continued running down the stretch. I was captivated by the colt and I had forgotten all about Bluegrass Cat and my immense want for him to win. I was so captivated by the bulking form that was Barbaro that I was looking forward to his Preakness race.
But because I didn’t know when the Preakness was, I had missed it. And thank God I had. The next day, I was visiting my father with my mother and my brother at the firehouse a few cities away and as we were leaving, I saw the newspaper laying there on a desk and on the front page was Barbaro on three legs, being supported by Edgar Prado, fear and sadness and panic setting in on both jockey and horse. But Barbaro was so smart, so intelligent not to freak out over the pain. When I got home, I had my mother help me search for Barbaro. When I found the news articles, I knew he would be in serious trouble. I knew it wouldn’t be easy on him, his connections or his fans. As time went on, I found out that he’d gotten laminitis, a fatal disease in horses. I was so upset about that developing story that I couldn’t handle reading anymore news updates of him. I only found out what had happened to him a day or two after he was euthanized. After he was put down to end his suffering, I vowed to never again get my heart attached to a horse.
That lasted a long time. Hope you can sense the sarcasm.
About a month after he died, I found a site while browsing the Internet and upon looking at it, saw it was dedicated to a near jet black filly with a star and a white coronet band around her left hind. I found myself crying and falling in love with her as I read the blog posts and the entries created by her fans. I have long since forgotten what site it was and it’s probably gone by now, but it got me thinking. Who is the filly? What ever happened to her, because the fans never, ever hinted on what happened to her after the Great Match Race of 1975.
That prodded me into doing deeper digging. I found videos of her races on YouTube and articles of her online. I found pictures of her on Google and immediately fell in love with the Reviewer filly. Little did I know that she would be the Chosen One, the one single horse who could get me back into the warm embrace of horse racing, even after I’d turned my back on it after the death of its prince, Barbaro.
After I found Ruffian, I did even deeper digging and came up with my favorite Triple Crown winner and near miss Triple Crown winner. Seattle Slew and Charismatic had my heart by then, but Ruffian was the one who had my heart even tighter. Now that Orb has blown through this year, he has my heart just like Ruffian does. Not in a biased way, but by a pedigree and talent standpoint. Orb’s female family traces back to none other than a three-quarters sister of Ruffian, out of Shenanigans, but by Ruffian’s grandsire, Bold Ruler. Laughter had foaled Steel Maiden in 1983, when her dam was 13. Steel Maiden foaled a filly named Masabi Maiden in 1993 and the mare herself had foaled a filly that would be named Lady Liberty. She, in turn, would foal Orb in 2010, her fourth foal and by far her greatest offspring. Now he’s cemented me to the sport just like his relative Ruffian did. I don’t think I’ll ever leave now that I have both Orb and Ruffian. You know, thinking back on it, Orb is my modern day Ruffian. <3