(Before every race, when I have a horse running, I try to find a minute to drop my head and say a little prayer to the big jockey in the sky. I never, ever ask for a win. Never. I do ask that everyone and every thing comes back home safe. And, sound. Happy. And, safe. It’s just my thing. Judge if you want. But it’s my thing.)
On Monday, we finally got to see just what might appear before our wondering eyes. On Monday, we finally got to witness what we had planned, wished for, thought about, and dreamed of over the past four years. Four long years. On Monday, we got to live out one our greatest of days.
It was race day.
It was opening day.
It was Diamond Solitaire’s first day at the races.
It was our day.
Four longs years ago, I went to my great friends Lori and David Osborne and we talked about doing a foal share between my mare Diamond Seeker and their superstar runner Majestic Harbor, who was just beginning his first season as a stallion at Swifty Farms in Indiana.
We thought it could be a good match. We thought it could be a great opportunity. We thought it might work.
My mare needed a stallion to mate.
Their stallion needed some mares to produce.
We all were looking to capture a little lightning in a bottle.
So, over a bottle of red and a bottle of white, we hatched “The Dream.” We would breed Diamond Seeker to Majestic Harbor. And, we would hope for the best.
Nearly a year after the mating, we got our foal. (And, by now, you know her story and how it unfolds. “The Dream” had become “The Miracle.”)
A year later, Lori and David raised an amazing yearling — who took over the field like she owned it; and she ran with both the wind and the other foals like she knew she was both blessed and special.
And, yet a year later, here we stood. In the paddock at Indiana Grand. Brilliant sunshine splashing all around. A nice breeze blowing. And, Diamond Solitaire bouncing all around.
She was ready — or not — to make her first career start.
She was ready — or not — for her debut.
She was ready — or not — to go racing. For the first time. Ever.
And, here we were. Ready — or not — to watch; wish; root; cheer; wish; pray; bet; wish; and support. Did I mention wish?
Crowded up to the paddock — like a kid pressing his nose to the pet store window — was a group of Diamond’s co-owners, who we brought into our little fold and into our horse racing ownership family. Most of them, if not all, are what we like to call “newbies.” Or, better yet, first-time race horse owners.
Tim and Carla Moman was there. Mark and Jamie Deno was there. Brad Rateike, donning a pair of pants that he must have stolen out of the jockey’s room, was there. (They looked like they may have fit a jockey. Maybe. But we are not judging, Brad. Just amazed that the “Twin Spires,” did not split into “Three Spires.” LOL.)
David Symth, and his entire entourage of party-goers, were there. Ron and Lisa Smith were there. Dave and Melissa Ball were there. John Pritchett and Daniel Krajnovich were there. Even Uncle Paul — who is related to Tim and Carla, somehow, and I met for the first time — was there, for God’s sake. (Love me some Uncle Paul.)
Did I miss someone? I am sure I did. But they were there, too. You know you were.
Even the ones that could not make the track, well, they were there, too. In mind. In soul. In our hearts.
We were there.
We ate. We drank. We laughed. Carla and Jaime cut little ribbons — in the colors of the silks that they had designed — for us to wear on our lapels and hats. Along with our hearts and souls on our sleeves.
We smiled. We handicapped. We started a “show parlay.” And, then we started another one. And, of course, we started another one. Can’t remember who picked the loser. (Blush.)
Until it came race time. Then, there was a hush. The only sound was a huge and collective skid — as the sound of the chairs sliding away from the table drummed throughout the clubhouse, and a hustle, bustle move to make our ways to the racetrack resonated all around.
The only thing that rattled more, I think, were the nerves.
The only thing that fluttered more than our eye lashes were our hearts.
The only thing moving faster than the horses in the paddock were our heart beats.
And, to be honest, I don’t think it matters if you have had hundreds of horses in the past; or this is your maiden voyage. I don’t think it matters if you have seen this sight before or many times before; or if this is the first time that your eyes are truly open. I don’t think it matters if you have been here and done that before, or if you have never been there or done that ever.
Race day is special.
Race time is game time.
Every. Single. Time.
And, it is in this very moment that your realize just why you risk both money and heart on breeding, raising, racing or owning a Thoroughbred who has become both friend and family.
The pride bubbles to the top like a cola shaken before opened.
The absolute joy is like watching your own child score the winning goal in a soccer match; or do their recital in front of just a few friends and family for the first time.
The anticipation makes you stand just a little straighter. The hope makes you breathe a little deeper. The moment makes you live a little stronger.
On Monday, I got to feel those sensations again.
On Monday, we all got to feel those feelings again.
Pins meet needles.
Butterflies meet belly button.
Diamond Solitaire meet your destiny.
As the horses left the paddock, you could see our peeps. Every one — to a person — tried to make eye contact with our gal.
As the horses pranced though the post parade, you could see our filly. She was looking for love in all the wrong places.
As they galloped off and warmed up for the race to come, you could sense it. The time had come. Our time had come.
Were our hopes too high?
Were our expectations too much?
Is she as good as we hope?
Is she as good as we want?
It was like the first time Brad, my son, who now measures 35 years old, drove his bicycle over the hill and out of my sight. It only lasted a few stressful minutes. But it seemed like it took forever for him to reappear. Yet, when he did? God, it felt good.
It was like the first time Alex, my daughter, who nows is a mother of her own, looked at me from the gymnastics mat at Rupp Arena. I knew she could do her routine. I had watched her do it time; after time; after time; after time. I knew she knew that she could do that routine. After all, she would count every time she did it. But I could sense that fear. I could see that trepidation. Her stage. Her chance. Her time. When she did it? Standing back flip. Nailed it. God, it felt so very good.
It was like watching my son, William, stand at the foul line. The basketball game squarely on the line. The margin very much in doubt. The ball resting in his hands. His. One dribble and then two. One deep breath and then another. Finally, the ball rocks from the palm of his hand and off his finger tips. The arch seemingly suspended in time. When the ball finally nestled in those nets, I nearly crumbled to my knees. Swish. God, it felt so good.
On Monday, it was Diamond’s turn.
As the gate sprung open, releasing the 2YO fillies, Diamond seemed a bit stunned. She shuffled. She banged. She knocked. And, she retreated. It didn’t take long for her to find the rear of the group. It didn’t take her long to find dirt in her face. It didn’t take her long to taste what defeat must surely be.
Our group, now standing by the rail, went from cheering to gasping. Or, so I thought. Not the kind of debut either I or them was anticipating. Or, so I began to prepare myself.
And, then I saw her suddenly shift to the outside and away from the dirt clods being hurled at her. I saw her begin to run. Like I had seen her before — in practice. Like I knew she could — in ability.
From last to next to last and quickly past the next.
From nowhere to somewhere, and soon into picture.
She moved so fast that she lunged to her inside, and then was corrected and she moved to the outside. Most of all, though, she was moving — to her front side.
At the wire, she was no match for the winner. Not on this day.
But she was third, and two jumps past the wire she was 2nd.
In the stretch, she was running. Like the filly that I knew she could be.
When the rider finally pulled her up and made their way back to the unsaddling area, I could see her eye in the distance. I could hear her blowing. And, I could tell she was both happy as hell it was over; and ready as hell to do it again.
Then, as she stood to be unsaddled, I whistled to her and yelled: “Hey Girl.”
Diamond turned her head — as she always, always, always does — and we both stood for just a second and stared straight into each other’s soul.
I shook my head. And, I told her what my heart was saying to me all along: “Great job, girl. Great job.” While never audible, it was the same thing I had told Brad, and Alex and William. Great job.
In my heart of hearts, I will always think that Diamond Solitaire shook her head back at me. Maybe it was just to knock a fly off or to splash away the cooling water that was poured over her head. Or maybe, just maybe, it was her answer back, too. “Thanks, Dad?” “I’ll do better next time, Dad?” “I’ll whip their ass next time, Dad?”
I don’t know.
But what I do know?
God, it felt so good.
And, that’s exactly the reason you own a racehorse, my friends.
It’s exactly why you own a racehorse.
(Part of our ownership team celebrates at Indiana Grand on Monday.)
(Diamond Solitaire in the paddock and the post parade)
(In the stretch, Diamond makes a big move to go from last to third. She nearly zoomed to 2nd.)
(Both Diamond and me were a little anxious for the first start)
(Gearing up for a nice wager)
(Diamond gets a love pat from jockey Jose Montano and gets ready for her first race ever)
(Partner David Osborne, Assistant Trainer Mack Lyster and me keep a watchful eye)