(Charles W. Hebel / Photo Submitted)
(David and Lori Osborne)
I will be he first to admit that I did not know Charles W. Hebel very long. And, I will be the first to tell you that I didn’t know him well enough, either.
I wish that I could have fixed both of those things. Especially now. After all, Mr. Hebel — which is all I ever called him by — passed away on Sept. 30 after a short illness with Leukemia.
We would have been swell friends. We would have so much to talk about. We would have so much to discuss. We would have so many things to remember and so many things to look forward to. We would have been great friends.
That I do know. That much I do know about this kind and generous man.
I was first introduced to Mr. Hebel several years ago, when Del Mar Race Course got to host the Breeders’ Cup. Mr. Hebel’s daughter — the glorious, vivacious, personable, adorable Lori Hebel-Osborne — introduced us in the most unusual of ways.
We got to stay in the same condo that overlook the grand Pacific Ocean, and where the turf actually did meet the surf.
We got to share the same living quarters that stood majestically on the hill that overlooked the sea and nearly the racetrack, too.
We got to spend several wonderful, beautiful, glorious sun-filled days near La Hoya and in one of the most beautiful venues in the entire world.
Each day we were in paradise, we would wake in the morning about the same time. Mr. Hebel would have his coffee and I my Coke. We both shared an affinity for the caffeine, I guess, although we enjoyed in very different ways.
And, we set out to talk.
If you know me very well, I can do a lot of it.
If you knew Mr. Hebel very well, you knew he didn’t mind it, either.
So we sat. Each morning. And, we chatted.
Mr. Hebel told me how he grew up in Louisville, and went to law school at the University of Louisville. (He failed to mention that he graduated Cum Laude or that he had been honored with the prestigious Louis Drayman Award in 2012.)
Mr. Hebel told me how he later specialized his firm into one that became expert in real estate closings, estate planning and corporate and business organizations. (He failed to mention that he was the original wordsmith of the 1031 Tax Deferred Exchange rule that became a benchmark in real estate tax law. But then again, I would not have understood what it meant.)
Mr. Hebel told me about his love for preservation; for history; for antiques. I was so intrigued how he managed to get a historic house, carved from nature over 100 years ago and made of Kentucky limestone rock, moved — piece by piece, mind you — from one location in Jefferson County to the hillside of what was to become Deerfield Farm in Oldham County and become the home for his daughter, Lori, and her husband, David.
If you have never seen this place? OMG. It truly is amazing. A tribute to what once was made and the hands that made it. A tribute to Mr. Hebel for preserving it forever.
But it didn’t take long before the conversation would soon turn to the horses. A passion of his. A passion of mine. A subject we two could easily share. We sat for time on end, discussing both memories and visions.
We talked about our favorite Kentucky Derbies, and why each race still danced in our memory banks and on our tongues as if they were just raced a day or so ago.
We talked about our favorite horses, both then and now, and why they still galloped so strong in our minds.
We talked about how racing used to be, and how we both wanted to always be.
We just talked. Nothing to sell each other. Nothing to convince the other to buy. Nothing but just honest observations and conversations.
It was like talking to my own grand-fathers, in a way. It reminded me of such. It reminded me of them. It reminded me of what they would say — true. But it reminded me, so very much, how they would say it.
With conviction — yes.
But, more importantly, with Southern grace and style that was more gentle than forceful. More like a glass of ice tea on a summer’s day, that a jolt of tequila at a party’s night.
The words were genuine and true. Full of honesty. Full of meaning. Full of life.
I hung on every word. I remembered times with my own Paw-Paw. When he would sit on the porch swing of his little, modest, country home and would do the same with me. It was like I had another chance to talk with him, face to face. Amazing grace.
At that time, Mr. Hebel struggled to just walk from room to room. It made me hurt to just watch him. Always, I offered to assist. Always, he refused.
He would walk alone. Proudly.
He made it to the races that day at Del Mar. Enjoyed the hell out of them, too. He cashed more tickets than me, and he laughed all the way to the teller.
Occasionally, I would see Mr. Hebel and his wife, Carol, at the races. They made such a lovely pair. Always.
I often would see Mr. Hebel in his daughter, too. The way she talked. The way she loved the horse. The way she still lives her life. Full of it, to the very brim.
Just about a month ago, we got the chance to race our 2YO filly Diamond Solitaire for the first time at Indiana Grand. She is a filly that I bred with both David and Lori Osborne. She is a filly that Lori raised by hand, too. She is a special filly.
It made my day when I found out that Lori and David had another filly in the very same race; just inside the starting gate and next to ours. They bred and owned with Lori’s mother and dad — Carol and Charles. And, it made my day even more special when I found out that both Carol and Charles were coming to the races, too.
Before the races began, I got a chance to go over to their table and renew our acquaintances. Chatted with Carol for a second or two. Sat down and shook the hand of Mr. Hebel, before he was to have his lunch.
What with the restrictions due to COVID these days, I didn’t stay long. Didn’t want to impose. Didn’t want to expose, in any way.
But when I shook his hand, it was like shaking the hand of a true man. Grip was firm. Eye contact was direct. The words still resonate.
“It is good to see you, young man,” Mr. Hebel said. “I want to wish you luck with your filly. I hear she may be a good one. Good for you guys. I hope she is a champ.”
It was the last time I saw Mr. Hebel.
It was the last time we exchanged words.
It will not be the last time we talk, though. I promise you that.
Oh, the conversation that you may overhear may be a bit one-sided. You may even wonder who in the hell I am talking to or chatting about. Yet, that happens with me more often than I like to admit, any way. LOL.
But we will have our chats. Especially before every race that Diamond Solitaire can make the gate. You can rest assured.
And, I hope Diamond Solitaire can run her heart out. I hope she can be a “champ.”
Mr. Hebel sure was.
Go rest high on that mountain, my friend. Until we have a chance to chat again.