(Diamond Solitaire stood at attention early on Monday morning. The sun was brilliant, to be sure. But the 2YO filly was even more. At least to me. Photos by Gene McLean)
It didn’t take long to sprout a big, ole’ Country-style grin on Monday morn.
About the same amount of time it takes a youngster to awake on Christmas morning, and slip in to see what — to their wondering eyes might appear — was left overnight and underneath the tree so green. No time at all.
About the same amount of time it takes a young couple to see their baby spring to life and take its first breath of air on Earth. No time at all.
About the same amount of time it takes a proud “Pops,” to see, touch, squeeze, hug and hold a grandson for the first time in such a long time. No time at all.
And, in this particular case, it took about the same amount of time it takes a young, inexperienced, head-strong 2-year-old Thoroughbred filly to run an 1/8th of a mile for the very first time, in fact.
Or, in other words, about 11 seconds and a few ticks.
As soon as I rolled into the entrance and onto the grounds of the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, KY., I got the call from my good friend and trainer Stephen Lyster. Seems as if both of our fillies — Miss Jacqueline and Diamond Solitaire — were leaving the barn and headed onto the track for their morning leg-stretchers.
With no time to waste or spare, I pulled up to Stephen’s truck and jumped out with phone already in hand and already turned to “photo” mode.
“Here comes Miss Jacqueline,” Stephen said, as he pointed to the first of two bay fillies jogging in my direction. “She’s doing good. She’s just going to jog today, but look at her. Head tucked up. She’s wanting to do a little something more.”
(Miss Jacqueline, with the perfect “Diamond” on her nose, always seems to know the sound of my voice. When I called her name today, she would stop. On a dime. And, look my way. Each and every time. Each. Time.)
Miss Jacqueline is our 3YO filly by Jack Milton and out of our mare Diamond Seeker. She won on debut last November in rather impressive fashion, running off to a 6-length victory over a sloppy racetrack to give us our first victory ever under the famed Twin Spires.
But for a variety of reasons, Miss Jacqueline has not raced since then.
Been close a couple of times. Only one breeze away from a race.
Then, something funny — as in strange and definitely not “ha-ha” — would happen. A sore shin. A gravel in her hoof. A bout of illness. Another shin splint. Something funny would always happen. Funny, as in strange. Definitely not in “ha-ha.”
Yet, here came Miss Jacqueline. Head tucked like a black knight on the greatest chess board of sporting life. Snorting. Snuffing. Puffing. Blowing. Until she came within inches of me on the outer rail. Until I yelled at her:
Miss Jacqueline snapped her head up and looked our way. Just for a second. Just for a moment in time. Just in time to catch my eye. And, then she was off to impress in her own way.
It was the look on her face when I called her name that meant the most to me this morning.
We are friends.
I know it.
She does, too.
Just a few strides behind Miss Jacqueline was her half-sister, Diamond Solitaire. The 2YO filly, by Majestic Harbor, looks a lot like her older sister. Bay. Small mark on the forehead. A little tab of white here and there.
But Diamond is going to be bigger. Perhaps, she is already a bit stronger. And, some would argue, that she may eventually be more talented. Time will tell.
When she jogged up to both Stephen and I, the rider slowed and then stopped and turned Diamond towards the track.
I yelled at her, too.
There was no return look. Diamond did not snap her head up. She did not look our way. Not even for a second. Not for any moments in time. Her eye did not catch mine. Her mind was on something else.
“She is going to breeze 1/8th of a mile today,” said Stephen. ” I told the rider to just let her go an easy 1/8th. We will see how she likes it.”
A few seconds turned into a minute or two. Then, the silence, was broken.
“Roddy,” Stephen said to the rider. “Just an easy eighth. Just nice and easy.”
Diamond, turning to listen, it seemed, nodded, too. Or so it seemed.
Soon, Roddy — the rider — and Diamond were off on their way.
They jogged. That turned into a gallop. And, at the top of the little stretch of the training track, the duo took off on the first breeze of the young filly’s life.
I manned a phone, doing the video.
(click on the link to watch Diamond Solitaire’s first breeze)
Stephen manned a phone, doing the timing.
As they passed us by, I heard Roddy yelp to his aspiring student: “There you go. There it is. You got it now.”
As they hit the pole, I slowly stopped my phone and watched the duo gallop off around the turn. I turned to Stephen and said, “What time did you get her in?”
I was thinking :13 or :14 seconds. Something like that. After all, it was the inaugural voyage.
Stephen showed me his phone.
It blinked. “11 seconds” and some change.
I blinked. “Are you kidding me,” I asked?
“That was good,” Stephen said. “She’s got a chance.”
Christmas morn. Birth day. “Pops” and grandson reunion.
It was time to cheer. Even if it was only the first work. Even if it was only on the inside. Even if it didn’t matter.
It was the feel on the sun on my face — and in my heart — when Diamond sprinted through her first career work that meant the most to me on this morning.
It was the feel of excitement; the rush of adrenaline; the sudden image of dreams that meant the most to me on this morning.
Miss Jacqueline looked so good.
Diamond Solitaire worked so good.
It was both of those fillies that meant the most to me on this morning.
As soon as we got back to the barn, both of the young ladies were cooling out. They got their baths. And, they got a chance to graze outside Barn 9 on the green, green grass of home.
(Diamond Solitaire got her bath)
(Miss Jacqueline got her bath)
(Diamond Solitaire grazes)
(Miss Jacqueline got ready to graze)
(Miss Jacqueline in the back and Diamond Solitaire enjoyed their time together.)
As the two of them slowly munched on their grass, and sunned in the shine, I told Stephen that I had to get back to Louisville. Thanked him for his time. And, as I turned, I yelped at the girls one last time:
“Hey girls. See you next week.”
Simultaneously, the two them raised their heads. Looked at me. Just as if they knew exactly who I was and why I was there. Miss Jacqueline snapped her head up and looked our way. Just for a second. Just for a moment in time. Just in time to catch my eye. Diamond Solitaire snapped her head up, too, and looked our way. Just for a second. Just for a moment in time. Just in time to catch my eye.
And, right then and there, I knew exactly why I own a racehorse. Or two.
I knew exactly why I was sporting a big ole’ Country-style grin on this Monday morn.
The two of them had already made my day.
In no time at all.