Saratoga Horse Racing

Horse Sense: Rachel Alexandra and the Power of Serenity

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Thumbnail image for Unfinished Rachel Alexandra Brian T. Fox.jpgWorry not, I shall write a great deal more about Rachel Alexandra as the week goes on and we get closer to Woodward Stakes Day.  Me, and every other racing writer in North America.  The time I spent in the Queen's royal presence last Monday morning gave me ample material to write a book, or a screenplay.  I wish Jess Jackson would love my writing, and ask me to document his big horse's life for the silver screen.  Rachel is not only a feast for the eyes and food for the soul--she's worth her weight in printer's ink.

I'll whet your appetite for the whole story from last week by telling you tell you that, in the midst of the storm that surrounds her--the mighty, invincible, unequaled Rachel Alexandra is a model of serenity.  On Monday morning I dubbed her, Her Serene Highness, for I believe that this is her archetypal name, the moniker that was written in the stars before she was born.

Thumbnail image for Rachel Alexandra credit Adam Coglianese.jpgWith video cameras whirring and still cameras set on "continuous" snapping away; journalists and reporters standing cheek-to-jowl around Steve Asmussen and mindless chatter as scores of voyeurs watched her take a bath--how invasive!--she worked, hotwalked and bathed without any indication that she even knew she was surrounded by interlopers.  Her space was seriously invaded by those of us who love her; those who were assigned to cover the story and those who saw the golden dollar signs hanging like a nimbus 'round her perfect, beautiful, gorgeously-marked face.

I have lived a long time, and been a racing fan for...ever--and I'm not sure I've seen such giddy, girlish attention paid to a horse, perhaps ever.  I fully expect to see headlines announcing, "Rachel Breathes!"--stories documenting her every inhale and the psycho-sociological/historic implications thereof.

The psychic smothering by so many people--even when it's done in the name of love--could make a being, equine or human, a tad nervous.  To say the least.  Completely and utterly psycho would be more likely.

But not Rachel Alexandra.  I was reminded of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.  The truly powerful don't need to flaunt what they have, or can do.  At the Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sales on August 10th and 11th, His Highness was very casually dressed and bespectacled, moving through the crowd with grace and quietude of heart.  Unlike the flashy nouveau riche whose insecurities require that they don their most ostentatious designer togs and every diamond in the box--one of the wealthiest men in the world felt no such requirement.  He knows who he is; what he has and how much power he possesses--and that no amount of designer flash was required to convince himself or others that he's OK. 

The possession of genuine, personal power is very good for the soul.  Whether the power is yours because you rule a country or just because you're confident in your own abilities and wholeness--power is very appealing to those who observe you in your peacefulness.  Real power is attractive precisely because it indicates the acceptance of one's self. 

Sheikh Mohammed didn't need to wear an Armani suit--and Rachel Alexandra felt no need to rear up on her hind legs, let out a blood-curdling scream and prove that she's an Alpha.  She knows that she's THE Alpha--so no display of her physical strength or primal scream was required.  Over and over in my mind, I thought about the fact that she hotwalked and stood for her bath, surrounded by so many human invaders--and the words of a poem came to mind:

"She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes..."
                             -  Lord Byron (George Gordon)

Unruffled, unflustered, even as the center of attention every waking second of her life--RachelThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Rachel Alexandra Beautiful Head Shot Cathy Duffy.JPG Alexandra, Superhorse--truly walks in beauty like the night.  She carries her power within, and--having no need to act out, be a spoiled brat, lock herself in her stall or threaten those who would crush her with their adoration--moved silently around that ring and stood regally and calmly in a situation that would unnerve one who had not her peace of heart.  The peace that comes only from within, from embracing one's own power--and only as a byproduct of absolute confidence and the ability to take it all in, filter it--and yet not be affected by any of it.

This past week has, for me, been a time that offered many opportunities to freak out, lose my cookie and worry until my dreams are plagued by dancing, demonic fish-faced modern dancers.   Every life has its ups and downs, and this week threw some downs at me.  The next seven days may tempt me to worry.   But the potential for bliss is always present, too.  And bliss, on the other hand, can carry us on its gentle wings to unexpected heights and places of new creativity.  Bliss, as I understand it, is the unexpected joy that springs from a heart that is, like that of our beloved Rachel Alexandra--calm, serene and confidently strong, even in a maelstrom.  The serene heart knows that nothing that Life throws at us--bad news or stalking by paparazzi--nothing can conquer or dismay the truly peaceful at heart.

Worry is the almost immediate response to the curve balls that life throws at us.  We get tossed a curve, and we immediately kick into worry.  And worry--as its companion demon, fear--never accomplishes a thing.  Nothing is gained by being preoccupied by worrying about something.  Worry never changed anything.  Prayer changes things.  Action can change things, if it's a situation in which we have some measure of control.  Recruiting the aid of friends can help.

But worry?  Fear?  Running around like a beheaded chicken?  Nothing good can come from losing my mind over a situation, regardless of how dire or unfair it may seem.  Jesus said that not one minute is added to our lives by worrying.  In fact, it's probably the opposite:  worry causes stress, and stress is responsible for so much illness, thanks to that tricky mind-body connection.  Worrying can make you sick, so the tendency to worry should be cast aside, tout de suite.

I'm going to take a page, instead, from a friend.  Her Serene Highness, Empress of All Her Eye Surveys Rachel Alexandra.  Well, OK, Rachel Alexandra isn't exactly a friend.  We've never snuggled, or even touched each other.  Yet.  (Hope springs eternal.)  But I love her, and we exchanged spirit contact last Monday--which truly, I promise to describe in detail, probably Tuesday.

But I consider Queen Rachel to be a friend--or perhaps I should say, mentor.  I read her peaceful spirit, and wanted to integrate that knowledge into my own life.   The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said that, "...if your neighbour owns a horse and you do not, open a window in the wall to allow the Blessings to reach you from next door."  Another Arabic proverb observes that "...the wind of Heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears."

Regardless of the negative observations of naysayers who insist that horses are four legs, no brain and potential protein sources, they are, to those of us attuned to capital-T Truth--archetypal, spiritual, centered beings.  They seem to know secrets about Life that we mere humans, if we manage to just sit still and listen--can hear and learn from our bemaned counselors.

If you get the chance to touch a horse--especially a horse as centered as Rachel Alexandra--do so.  Do not hestitate.  Do not wonder if the horse will think you're nuts.  Always ask permission of a horse's owner or other connection, but, once that is secured:  do it.  Just let the horse sniff you, and s/he will take it from there.  Thoroughbreds, while they have a reputation for being insane and prickly--are, in my experience, quite the opposite.     Rachel Alexandra is a priestess of her sect.  We can learn great truths from horses, and a being on the level of the Queen teaches us first and foremost that peace of heart--serenity--even in the center of a storm, good or bad--is possible.

Take a page from Rachel's book, and acknowledge your own inner power.  Let that power connect you to yourself and to the Divine.  Take that power, focus firmly on the future and let the peace radiate out from the inside.

Close your eyes.  Open your heart.  Hear the siren song of the horse, and listen to the aria that has but one lyric.  When Rachel Alexandra is confronted with pressure to lose her nut, to panic in the face of the crushing throng, she arches her powerful neck, head toward her heart and moves through the crowd as if on a different plane from all others.  Her response to pressure, her lesson for tonight, is the absolute refusal to allow the cacophony to enter her personal space.  Rachel say, "Neigh" to the useless option of worry--and so should we.

[Credits:  "Unfinished Rachel Alexandra," painting (work in progress) by Brian T. Fox.  Photo of Rachel Alexandra racing, courtesy of New York Racing Association/Adam Coglianese.  Rachel Alexandra headshot,  Cathleen Duffy, The Horse Whisper Photography.   Thank you all!]

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M.E. Altieri

THE ALPHA MARE, commonly known as M.E. Altieri, is a writer/editor/activist who lives and breathes the art and sport of horse racing—both Arabian and Thoroughbred.
At the tender age of six months, her Grandmother plopped her on the back of a pony. (See photo.) Three years later, Mare first rode a horse—an American Quarter Horse—on her cousin's farm in Stephentown, New York. That same year her Mother and Grandma took her to Green Mountain Park, a now- (sadly) defunct Thoroughbred track in Pownal, Vermont. Next stop, Saratoga Race Course. The seed was planted, and a passion, born.
While she does have other interests (Medieval languages and theology, cats, tigers, etc.) none hold a candle to her passion for horses. She finds that horses are far-more intelligent, compassionate and kind than 99% of the people she meets. Mare's career is fascinating, if nothing else: in 2011, she served as Editor of a beautiful history book, The Purebred Arabian Horses of Iraq: Myths and Realities by Dr. Mohammad bin 'Abdul-'Aziz Al Nujaifi. She's contributed to several international horse racing publications, including Al Badia, Arabian Finish Line, Desert Mirage and Galopp Magasinet.
She's the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of f!lly Magazine-- the magazine by, for and about women in horse racing. f!lly will debut in 2013. Both Thoroughbred and Arabian racing--and women, f!llies and mare from all around the world--will be featured in the full-color, beautiful, historic publication. Magazines are the first of the media M.E. wishes to tackle: she's also writing a screenplay, and seeks the perfect venue and producer for her horse racing radio show. She's got the voice; God knows, she has opinions--she feels led to put them together and broadcast to the 51% of the racing fan base that's too-often been overlooked. (Hint: 51%...could it be, women?)
An Alumna of Mount Holyoke College, Mare hopes to use these media, including her blog here at Saratoga.com, to encourage women and girls to find their vocations in horse racing and to help make the world a more loving and nurturing place for all equines. When asked to identify her Mentor, the woman who encouraged her to follow her bliss, Mare names the great Penny Chenery. Through these various media projects, Mare hopes to do for other females what Ms. Chenery did for her--open doors, encourage and bless.


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Thoroughbred Racing in Saratoga

The Thoroughbred is a distinct, created breed of horse. Saratoga Springs, New York is a unique, pristine city in Upstate New York.

Put the two together, Thoroughbreds and Saratoga, and you have America's most prestigious, lushly beautiful and important racing meet. For six weeks every summer, the world's best horses, jockeys and trainers come together to compete for trophies, cash and fame.

In this blog, we'll discover All Things Thoroughbred and the lovely international community of horsepeople, both professionals and fans, alike who set up camp in this city. Some come for six weeks, only. Others are here from April through November every year, when the Oklahoma's open. Yet others trek to town to race their mighty steeds—then fall in love with the place; buy a home and move here.

The Saratoga racing family of humans and horses is a year-round endeavour. You think that all the horses all go elsewhere after Labor Day? Then this blog is for you, too.

(Is the reference, "the Oklahoma" lost on you? Stay tuned, you'll feel like a pro in no time.)

Welcome to the only experience on Earth that can boast of such otherworldly beauty and heart-stopping thrills, all in the same breath: Thoroughbred racing in Saratoga.