(Clay Goodwin, who was born with a congenital heart defect, still battles on at the age of 4 now and is one courageous dude / Photos From Facebook)

(One of our two 2-year-olds is now named for Courageous Clay / Photos by Gene McLean)

Just a few weeks ago, I was chatting with my daughter, Alex, on FaceTime and watching my two young grandsons, Mac and Teddy, frolic and play. Modern technology is the way I have to keep up with the growing boys most of the time these days. They live a couple of hours away and it seems they add two inches in height and a quarter-mile in intelligence every week, and I don’t like missing a single growing pain or a lifetime achievement award, either.

From time to time, Allie would stop to try to take a photo or two. Teddy, who was born in December of 2023, is a willing participate. He smiles readily, if not all the time. And, his movements of the day are restricted to turning over and scooting. Mac, on the other hand, is a, er, handful. He is a whirling dervish on two energetic legs and can move at light speed. Like a newborn colt, Mac sprints in one direction; kicks; and sprints in the other. A photo waiting and wanting to happen, but one hard to capture in sync and focus.

Each second, I captured, too. In my mind. In my heart. We laughed, as they played. We enjoyed, as they moved from one shinning moment to the next. Cue to music. Yank the heart strings.

As the seconds spun into minutes, Alex and I talked about everything under the sun and how much we all loved those kids to the moon and back, until Allie paused and posed a question:

“Dad, do you remember my friend from Western, Brandon,” asked Alex, who had graduated from Western Kentucky University several years back now.

I stumbled a second, as I thought. I can’t remember the items my lovely wife asks me to get at the grocery store these days, even though she makes a list and copies it twice. It was pretty obvious that I did not, as Alex only paused before plowing voice first into the story.

With each line, her voice cracked a bit.

With each word, my heart broke a bit.

As we watched our two happy, healthy babies roll and rip right in front of us, it was the story behind the scenes that tore our minds, bit by bit.

As the story goes…

About four years ago, Hannah and Brandon Goodwin, who now live in Louisville, had a son born just a couple of months after our little Mac was birthed. Unlike Mac, though, little Clay Goodwin didn’t get a clean break from the starting gate.

Just a couple of seconds after being born, Clay was rushed to the operating room. Instead of getting a long, loving embrace from both of his adoring parents, Clay was swept away to the neonatal unit where he was diagnosed with having four heart defects.

Just two days later, little, bitty Clay had his first open heart surgery.

For the next year, Clay was in and out of hospitals on a regular basis, needing the help of doctors and nurses just to find a way to survive. Over that year, Clay was hospitalized for a total of 283 days. That’s 283 hard, tough, tiring, and exhausting days.

But then, at the age of 1, or thereabouts, Clay got his first heart transplant. Hopes were high. Expectations were higher. Now, Clay may have a chance to be like other little boys his age. Now, Clay may have a shot to be like our Mac.

Unfortunately, and sadly, over the past couple of years, Clay’s body and new heart haven’t always agreed, or got along. Instead of joining together, they have seemed to have pulled apart. And, as a result, the hospital visits have returned. The hardship and pain have come calling again.

Brandon’s and Hannah’s dreams of little Clay playing Wiffle ball in the backyard with his brothers have been shelved. The thoughts of little Clay being able to sit at the table and eat cake and ice cream on his birthdays have been paused.

Just a few weeks ago, on my last visit to Nashville to see Alex and my boys, I found Mac waiting at the front door with a plastic bat and a ball. He had his glove and his hat. He was ready for “Pops” to help him learn how to hit and how to catch.

And, we spent a glorious afternoon doing just that. Playing. Laughing. Loving every second as if it was our last.

The very thought of Clay swinging for his life, instead of a ball, was a curveball I was not ready for on this day; on this call.

Alex told me about the Facebook page that both mom, Hannah, and dad, Brandon, created to chronicle the life and times of young Clay. It’s called “Courageous Like Clay.” If you get the chance, please go and click on the link. Do yourself a favor and read some of the posts. And, be prepared with some tissues nearby.

Here’s the link:

https://www.facebook.com/CourageousLikeClay/

Alex’s recant finally ended with a question, or two:

“Dad, Brandon just loves the horses. He has always wanted to take all of his kids to see the horses and the races. He follows you religiously on the blog and he reads what you have to write. I think he has always wanted to take Clay to the track sometime, too. But I don’t know if that will ever get to happen or not. I pray every day that it does.”

At that very moment, I hit my knees, too. Horses are tough. Resilient. Ferocious competitors. Courageous. Just like Clay. And, right then and there, I asked my God if he/she could see fit to help Clay recover, and win this race for life. I asked my God if there was anything I could do to help.

Just then, as if on cue, Alex asked:

“Dad, do you have any horses right now that haven’t been named yet? I think it would help the family so much if you could consider naming a horse after Clay. I really do. I promise I will never ask you to name another horse after any of us, if you can do it. Can you do it?”

It just so happened that I do have two new young horses, both 2-year-olds, whom I purchased for my new racing club — McLean Racing. And, it just so happened that neither of them had been named. Yet.

But before I could commit, I told Alex that I needed to poll our members to see if they were OK with naming one of the two after young Clay. So I asked.

And, it didn’t take long before the answers poured in just like I thought they would.

One member wrote: “Courageous Clay sounds great to me!”

Another wrote: “I love Courageous Clay as well…”

A third email read: “Courageous Clay sounds like a great name for our gelding.”

A fourth: “Of course you can name Courageous Clay.”

So, off to work I went. I decided the name fit best with our biggest and strongest of the two horses. A 2YO son of Catholic Boy and out of the mare Scattered Thoughts. The dam’s by the sire Scat Daddy.

He appears to be a fit feisty. He seems to be a fighter. He seems to be tough.

Just like Clay.

It seemed to work perfectly.

So I submitted the name to The Jockey Club and soon I had a confirmation.

Our horse is now named Courageous Clay.

And, we can only hope that he is as feisty and tough and courageous as his namesake.

And, we can only hope that he is as beautiful and gorgeous as the smile Clay sprouts every time he gets the chance.

And, we can only hope and pray that Clay will get the chance to unite with his horse in the winner’s circle some day. A circle to celebrate life. A circle to celebrate perseverance and victory. A circle to champion wins and winners.

A circle of life.

When I called Alex back just the other day, to tell her that our horse was now officially named Courageous Clay, she yelled; she screamed; and, at the end, she wept.

“Dad, thank you so much. I know this will make the family so happy. I know they will love telling Clay. They need it so much. They need this news so much,” Alex said.

I told Alex that we want no credit. The credit all goes to Hannah Goodwin. And, Brandon Goodwin. And, the three siblings Goodwin. And, most of all, to Clay Goodwin.

I told her they are the perfect living examples of Faith, Hope and Love. And, the greatest of these is Love.

And, with that, I knew exactly why I own a racehorse.

A racehorse I hope can carry Courageous Clay all the way to the finish line with Faith, Hope and Love. And, the Greatest of these is Love.