"The Wind of Heaven is that which blows through a horse's ears."
It's Friday, October 8th, and the world is Secretariat-crazy. That's groovy: I love Big Red, I adore Penny Chenery. I met her daughter, Kate Chenery Tweedy in August, and I can see where that apple did not fall far from her brilliant tree. I can't look at the cobalt-and-white checkerboard design of Meadow's silks without getting a chill or a tear. Penny was the first person to encourage me as a racing writer: I consider her to be my mentor.
So I'm thrilled that Penny is being honoured with this film that shares her big horse's name. It debuts today. I think it's deelish that Secretariat--or at least several horses painted to look like him--will storm past finish lines on the silver screen.
Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon: even the DRF features Meadow's silks on the top of their website today. I don't know if that was a financial decision or a genuine expression of respect, but there it is.
For me--and for many racing fans--the most striking thing about Secretariat wasn't his white socks; his perfect conformation; his long, huge stride. It wasn't even that he was the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, effectively overthrowing the kingdom of Citation.
No, for me and for many, the most outstanding thing about Big Red was the way in which he claimed that crown: 31 1/2 lengths in the Belmont. Belmont, the Big Sandy that takes great horses, chews them up and spits them out like they were so-much candy corn.
Secretariat with Ron Turcotte up blew down that track, every 1/4 mile faster than the one before. Moving like a freight train toward glory, he was fast, beautiful and most-of-all--strong.
He was also a descendant of all three of the Foundation Sires: the Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian.
And as we know--Arabians are known for their endurance. (You didn't know that? Please read up, there's a test at the end.)
The reason why the three Arabians were mated with English mares to create that which we now know as the Thoroughbred was because Arabians are tough as nails. Arabians can do a 100-mile endurance race across arid desertland without blinking. They may look smaller than Thoroughbreds. Their legs look more fairy-like.
But those critters have stamina and strength such as you'll not likely see in another breed anytime soon. For over 4,500 years, Arabians have been the Steed of Choice for soldiers (Alexander the Great, Napoleon); equestrians and pleasure riders.
But most important for our column here on Saratoga.com, Arabians were chosen to create the Thoroughbred breed because they can out-endure anyone around.
So the mighty Secretariat (whose deathiversary was on the 4th) had the genes of all three of the Founding Sires. If you think for one minute that his 31 1/2 length win in the Belmont was a coincidence--think again.
Yes, he was an unusual combination of many factors, but the endurance came directly from those Arabians.
It is so very appropriate that for the first time in the history of Keeneland Race Course, Arabians will grace the oval. The third race on Saturday, October 9th, 2010 will be a race of Arabian horses, the first-ever race of the breed at Keeneland. History will be made--but it is far more than that. History will be recalled, as Keeneland fans will get to see horses who carry the same heritage as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Rachel Alexandra--of all the greatest Thoroughbreds.
Simply-put: without Arabians, the Thoroughbred would not exist.
We who love Thoroughbreds and the sport of racing them should be thanking the people who made this possible: a trade-off with the racing authorities of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) brought about this great day. You see, Keeneland wanted Abu Dhabi to sponsor the $400,000 First Lady (race). "Savvy," as Cap'n Jack Sparrow would utter: the UAE folks said, absolutely--if we can put on a race of Arabians.
Everyone got what they wanted: Keeneland got the First Lady, and fans of Arabian horses get a race named The President of the UAE Cup, a Grade 1 race.
I cannot fathom how little press is being given to this race. BloodHorse.com blew it. As I took notes and excitedly trimmed my ideas this afternoon, BloodHorse.com's weekly racing preview landed in my inbox.
I opened it, fully prepared to note the omission of the historic event.
I wish I'd had the opportunity to make that bet, for I was right: of the 37 races presented by Blood-Horse (four of them at Keeneland)--The President of the UAE Cup (G1) was conspicuous by its absence.
Could this be lingering prejudice against Arabians? The breed is beautiful in and of itself: we needn't compare them to Thoroughbreds, because one is part of the other. Sure, the Arabians won't run as fast as Thoroughbreds on the rest of the card--but they could run around the Keeneland track four or five times without breaking a sweat.
Endurance. I can't emphasize that strongly enough. Were it not for Arabians and those three boys in the 17th and 18th centuries--Thoroughbreds wouldn't exist as we know them today. And none of them would ever be able to run 1.5 miles in the Belmont.
There'd be no Triple Crown winner, ever, because that mile-and-a-half would seem like 1,000.
Endurance. You might read that, "guts." The Arabian breed has been around longer than any breed on the Earth. Arabians represent endurance both in terms of distance and longevity. How can anyone find fault with a breed of horse that carried some of the world's bravest men into battle? The mares were used because they were fearless.
Isn't that what we try to breed into Thoroughbreds: Fearlessness, speed, endurance and longevity?
Why is it, then, that Arabians are met with disdain at best (outright animosity, at worst) in some of the great Thoroughbred racing circles in the United States?
Ignorance. Someone coming into the game can be excused: they aren't necessarily privy to the raft of information and trivia about Thoroughbreds that we lifers carry around in our cranial satchels.
But for fans, turf writers, administrators and others in Thoroughbred racing to continue to carry around a bigotry against Arabian horses is just plain stupid. Nope, they don't run quite as fast as Thoroughbreds. Nope, they're generally not as tall.
But other than that--Arabians are beautiful horses who race, and we get to watch. Most important, they are directly related to our treasured Thoroughbreds. They lent their strength and sheer will to our breed, and for that we are to be eternally grateful.
If you're going to Keeneland tomorrow, please be sure to arrive before 2:07PM. That's post time for The President of the UAE (G1), the Arabians race. Allow yourself enough time to place a bet. Study the program, and wrap your head around some interesting information:
1) It's not a race for fillies or mares. It's not a race that's culturally restricted to males. Note that in this race: horses, colts, fillies and geldings are racing against each other. And no one is making a stink about this fact. It is what it is.
2) And of the entire field--#9 is Sand Witchh, with nine races (undefeated) under her belt, she's the Zenyatta of Arabian racing.
3) Who dat on the #5, TM Super Bird? Look! Up in the irons! It's a jock, it's a great athlete! It's...Calvin Borel!
The presence of Borel on an Arabian in tomorrow's race bodes very well for the future of Arabian racing in America. Well over 90% of all Thoroughbred jockeys have ridden Arabians. Yes, they have--the fact that you didn't know it does not mean it's not true. So Borel is riding TM Super Bird, but more than that--he's lending his name, his reputation and his passion for riding horses to this great sport.
Go to Keeneland tomorrow if you can. If not, get Thee to a simulcasting center. Either way--bet that Arabian race. If you want to grow the sport of horse racing, isn't it a far-better marketing concept, to integrate the racing of our parent breed into the track (and thereby increase handle with new, exciting betting opportunities)--than to sponsor beerblasts at racetracks?
If Churchill Downs introduced Arabian racing and betting, they might not feel the need to encourage drunks and idiots to prance around half-nekkid on Kentucky Derby Day. A day steeped in such history, ritual and grace should not lower itself to enabling alcoholism in the name of marketing.
I declare that, as of October 9th, there's no more need for poor marketing concepts in order to get people to the track.
Contrary to popular belief--perpetuated by marketing wonks on Lexington Avenue who make Big Bux misleading racing authorities: Drunks aren't bettors--but Arabian horse racing fans are. Hey, I've got an idea: let's kick out the alcoholic bingefests, and bring in the Arabians! Let's grow the sport of horse racing by bringing more Arabian races to more American tracks.
I'm not saying let's change the tone of the sport. I'm not suggesting, at all, that we race pigs or turtles or Transformers on our revered tracks.
I suggest simply that we need to open our arms, hearts and betting windows to the breed that started it all. Handle and attendance will go up, and everyone wins. (Except, of course, for the marketing wonks who slink away into the Churchill outfield to drink one last Jaegermeister-and-lite-beer shooter.)
Besides--Why should Del Park have all the fun?
* Penny Chenery and Secretariat, courtesy of www.secretariat.com
* Secretariat Conformation, courtesy of www.secretariat.com and Dell Hancock
* Samsheikh Conformation, courtesy of Val Bunting.
(NOTE: Do you see any resemblance between Secretariat and Samsheikh? I thouight so...)
* Photo of Tejas (looking all gorgeous and dappled), courtesy of Darla Ripley www.dreamfieldarabianracehorse.com/