Sometimes I have the memory of a fruitfly. Hence, I cannot recall if I’ve already shared this with you, my dear readers.
If I have–ah, well.
If not–I hope that this little tale blesses you in some way.
With the Saratoga meet–and with it, the Travers–upon us, I feel compelled to share.
Last year, I wrote this article, which was destined to become part of equine photographer, Juliet Harrison’s new coffee table book,“Track Life: Images and Words.” I’ve always been grateful that Juliet asked me to contribute a Saratoga memory, because this particular thought came to mind.
Sans further ado, here it is. I hope you like it…
Mommy’s Last Out
If I’m a freak for horses, blame my Mother. She’s the one who taught me the love of God’s equines, and the thrill of the race. From age four, I was at a racetrack (Green Mountain or Saratoga) with her, observing her carefully-chosen 50-cent bets and absolute joy when her critter crossed the line first.
As I grew into my teens and a bit beyond that, I did go to the track with friends. But attending with Mommy was much more interesting: friends wanted to hang out, flirt with jockeys and imbibe. Mommy wanted to sit on the Clubhouse Porch all day–eat a nice lunch, bet on her horses and be right there at the finish line when she won. Her passion for the horses and the sport was contagious, and apparently, congenital.
I abandoned the friends for my racing mentor by the time I was 22.
Mommy loved Holy Bull. She’d watched his two-year-old season in ’93, and decided that he was a Champion in the making. I’m sure that she experienced even greater joy than that known by even his connections. She was in the throes of her war with cancer that summer, and as she held Hope for Holy Bull’s future, she was driven to live, to see him race as a three-year-old. Sure enough, the summer of ’94, we all thought she was doing rather well–so well, in fact, that she made the trip to Saratoga and onto her Porch for Holy Bull’s Travers race.
In the moments that he graced the winner’s circle, she pronounced that, if she died that evening, she could die knowing that she’d seen greatness in action.
I agreed, but because I, too, had witnessed greatness in action–twice.
By the following May, Mommy was a home Hospice patient, just four weeks from meeting Secretariat in Heaven. Intellectually sharp as a tack, she asked that I study the entries for the Kentucky Derby aloud, and help her pick. This was our last handicapping experience together.
She liked Lake George for his name, she really liked Serena’s Song–but about Thunder Gulch she had “a feeling.” She couldn’t shake it, so in the days leading up to the race, we planned to bet him, long odds and all.
He won, she won, I won a memory that never will fade.
Mommy died three days before her boy’s Belmont. I watched the race on TV, cradling the box with my Mother’s ashes and crying my guts out. I wept because she was so newly-dead. Because we weren’t watching the Belmont together, pounding on our chairs and screaming.
I cried because it was so, so good, and so, so sad.
Per Mommy’s pre-passing instructions, I attended the Travers in August. I went alone: I couldn’t stand to make inane chatter with anyone on such a long day. I was there just to see Thunder Gulch win.
And of course he won–how could he not? I’m convinced that–besides the fact that he was immensely talented–Thunder Gulch took the day because he knew that my Mother loved him, and was giving him a hand ride from her heavenly perch.
Thank you to all the horses whom my Mother loved over the years, and for the passion that she ignited in me. Thank you, bless you–Holy Bull and Thunder Gulch–for lovingly escorting my Mother through her last two earthly years. Indeed, weeping may last for a night–but the joy of remembrance truly does come in the morning.