The racing season on any track provides rich fodder for writerly types like me. If you keep your
eyes, ears and heart open–and, to paraphrase Mark Twain, your mouth shut–you can see and experience things so small and yet so significant that your spirit fairly bursts into a thousand electric shards. Joy is everywhere as daily life on a racetrack presents myriad opportunities to observe new things and to integrate these things into the story of your own Life.
Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course exploded with opportunities to hear the poetry of the cosmos as it manifested itself right here on this very human plane. I’d recorded it all in my being, but this morning I realized that I should translate that into 0s and 1s, so that the residents of CyberSpace may–if only by association–experience the pure bliss of that gorgeous day in July 2009.
In the Bible, it is recorded that on the First Day, the Spirit of God moved across the face of
the water. On a regular basis, that same Spirit moves like a mist, regenerating every being in its path–inanimate and animate, alike. I am revived daily as the movement of that Spirit races through the shedrows; past the lemonade stand; resting for a moment in my immaterial force on its way–then swirling and dancing the entire sacred space into New Life.
Christmas arrives in July, for we who love Thoroughbred racing. I arrived on-campus later than I’d hoped, but was pleasantly surprised that a primo parking spot was available in my favorite location. Pulling into “my” spot–and already feeling heady with anticipation–I spied, with my little eye, Ralph: a dear heart and One Fun Guy.
“Ralphie!” I yelped, “Heyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!”
The crowd of revelers soon began to swell, as members of this extraordinary community came together for the first of 36 days of familial love and warmth. Carol, Horsewoman Extraordinaire, she with the beautiful smile and infectious laugh. So animated when she relates a story that I can see it playing in 3D. Lenny, my beloved friend with whom no words are necessary, and the grin that nearly makes me cry, speaking volumes to his fans and admirers.
Roy, whose horsetales bathe the soul with close-to-the-bone Wisdom. Jeremy, the import who defies description, whom, it is speculated, actually has the gift of omnipresence. Ronnie, the equestrian sprite whose nuclear red hair cascades around her shoulders and expresses her very being.
And then there’s Charitable Man, Asiatic Boy, Common Currency, Catty Madeline, Blue Destiny and Awesome Vow. Horses who move in truth and beauty through the Universe, whose presence here on Earth is a gift to those quiet enough to read them. Creatures not of this world, whose eyes penetrate to the core, to that place so raw that my cells ache.
For those whose hearts, eyes and ears are open, every minute of every day at a racetrack presents the opportunity to make new acquaintances and turn those new souls into cherished members of your personal stable of kin.
And then there are the moments that allow us to smile unexpectedly; to live a stereotype or realize that, in the truest sense, we really are all part of each other. The hay truck floating along the road in the backstretch, dropping fragrant yellow confetti along its path and onto the heads of unsuspecting grooms on bicycles. The cats who live with Joe Aquilino’s horses: Patches, the uber-affectionate Calico and Oreo, peering down warily from his perch high on a beam in Valentine’s stall.
The man in the Clubhouse who stealthily gave a tip to an acquaintance–but within full earshot of my delight. In that single rainy moment, I heard not the gentleman in the blue polo shirt and khaki shorts–it was Nicely-Nicely himself–stogie and Racing Form in-hand–advising a colleague that Paul Revere Can Do. I got a chill up my spine as, his stage-whisper confidence drew me in. In the cacophony of the Clubhouse, I sat in silence as I realized that every single being in that magical kingdom is absolutely necessary to the successful playing-out of the performance art that envelops us.
The horses swoop down from Heaven, and carry us on a wild-eyed ride that lasts far longer than the minute-and-change of an average horserace. This ride begins the first moment we discover The Sport of Kings (and Queens, Paupers, Bakers, Housewives)–and doesn’t end until we finally meet our equine heroes on the other side of the Untouchable Veil. This relationship, from the very first “Ahhhh!” imbeds itself in the human soul and insists that we participate with our entire being.
Horse racing fans are far more than people who follow a sport: this is a lifetime commitment. No wimps need apply. We are passionate lovers, throwing ourselves whole-heartedly in front of the horse-powered train. We live, breathe, eat and devour the athletes, both equine and human, who wooed us first: their initial overtures were gratefully accepted, and the marriage entered into neither somberly nor naively. This relationship will carry us through the pain that is thrown at us by the rest of Life.
This passion is the stuff of poetry and song.
These horses are the Breath of Life, itself: they give freely and selflessly to all who step into their world. Our community is made up first of the horses, then of those who work with and for them. But the spirit of the place is so great, so overwhelmingly open, that all are welcome. As goes the song, “We are Family,” for, indeed, whether you’re a fan, horseperson, horse, administrator or hot dog vendor–once you step onto the grounds of a racetrack, you contribute to this Circus of Life.
And we are happy to embrace you with the wings of Pegasus–for you speak the language, you know the song and your voice is necessary for the chorus to be complete. Rascals and Racehorses, welcome. Angels and devils, share a dance and wink at the antics of this community.
This nation is built on the strong, swift backs of our equine gods, deities who can not only carry the weight of an entire sport, but whose eyes, themselves, will transport us all to heights otherwise foreign to the human spirit.
[Photos courtesy of Cathleen Duffy, The Horse Whisper Photography.]