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"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.
It's on Its way. Can you feel It? Does your heart beat a little faster, knowing that It's almost here, and with It, friends and colleagues whom you've not seen in a dog's age? Is the electricity in the air--the pure, raw energy of anticipation--making you smile a little more broadly? Are your Facebook notifications and invitations all geared toward It these days?
"It" is the Saratoga meet, graciously brought to life once again by the New York Racing Association, known around these-here-parts as simply, NYRA. Thoroughbreds--graceful, luscious ballet dancers with a swing in their steps--have been at the Oklahoma since April 15th, doing Plies and Arabesques, their sensual walk inspiring hopes of fortune and the intoxicating, heady experience of standing in the historic winner's circle.
What's making you giddy at the thought of July 23rd? What does Opening Day--and every day--of the Saratoga meet mean to you?
To some of us, it's the opportunity to picnic in the back, and teach our children about Thoroughbreds, and teach a four-year-old to handicap. The only racetrack in the country--in the world?--at which the horses actually walk through the yard, itself, past thousands of fans on their way to the Paddock and, perhaps, history books. That thought, alone, is all kinds of Beautiful.
To others, it's the opportunity to see their horses race for the first time, ever--and at Saratoga, for God's sake! Still others experience it as a way to make some extra cash: renting out houses and apartments; parking cars; working concession stands at the world's greatest and most thrilling, 40-day Annual Convention...
I've written about visionary artist, Brian T. Fox, in a previous column here on Saratoga.com. I know Brian as both a friend and as an artist. I first met him four years ago, at an event for the Jackie Robinson Foundation. He'd painted the late legend, and was present to show his work to a throng of admirers of the great athlete--including Mrs. Robinson, herself.
In the four years since then, I've been privy to the inner workings of the artist's brain and soul. I get to see his paintings before they're finished, and consider it an honour and privilege to see the process, first-hand.
But the work for which we who love horses are most grateful is their tremendous work on behalf of the nearly 200+ horses who were neglected, sick and starving on Ernie Paragallo's farm in Climax, New York.
Unless you've lived under a rock for the last half-year, you know the story. Paraneck Stables, the racing arm of Paragallo's dysfunctional empire, has a farm in Upstate New York. On this farm lived Thoroughbreds who somehow fell through the cracks. How an 1,nearly 200-pound animal can fall through the cracks is beyond me. How over nearly 200 of them can go unnoticed is absolutely unfathomable. Somewhere along the line, "benign neglect" was replaced with "intentional, passive-aggressive murder attempt."
And so the CGHS stepped in in April, and confiscated the horses whose lives were endangered. All were treated, pro bono, by a man I am dubbing, Saint Jerry--Dr. Jerry Bilinski, the equine veterinarian who could not let these horses suffer when he had the tools, knowledge and compassion to help. Ronald L. Perez, Jr. (Ron Perez), the dedicated and compassionate Director and Investigator of the CGHS, would not tolerate these actions: his team of Board members, volunteers, staff and enforcement officers snatched the horses and got them to Dr. Bilinski for Phase I of their rescue.
The next step, that of adopting them out once they were healthy enough to be weaned from medical attention, is in process even as I write this.
This piece is not intended to be a downer, in any way. Inasmuch as I have very strong feelings about the events, I am neither the judge nor the jury. I needed to provide background so that you can know what good has been done so far, and that you may realize that more help is needed in order to assure that each of these horses are loved and safe.