(Diamond Solitaire, our 2YO home-bred filly by the majestic Majestic Harbor, finds the winner’s circle in just her second career start. We had a party in the winner’s circle at Indy Grand — where race fans are welcome to attend.)
If you read this column very often — or even at all — you know by now that I love my music. My preferred lyric and melody falls gently on my ear and my mind. It is the “Country” genre. And, my favored artists are the legends, who go off at 1-5 odds in my world.
We named our youngest Golden Retriever “Haggard.” You know why.
We have a sign on our shed at the Lake that came from the country store in Luckenbach. That’s in Texas. That’s also in a Waylon Jennings’ song. You see, Waylon was my seat-mate for a couple of Kentucky Derbies in the past, when “Millionarires Row” at Churchill Downs consisted of tables of ten, jammed together into commingled parties of all. Never met a better guy. Seriously.
We have a collection of vinyl that plays on our old-school record player. You will find a lot of Cash. You will find some Willie. You can even find some Don Williams and Vern Gosdin. Seen all of them in person. Better yet, I heard all of them sing in real time.
This weekend coming up, I am headed to the Lake and to see my great friend John Austin McDaniels. If you haven’t heard him sing, do yourself a favor and go on I-Tunes and buy yourself a download or two. He’s that good. I promise. And, this weekend, Johnny Mac is joining up with Merle’s former band to put on a concert / show at “The Breakers” in Paris, TN. Can’t wait. It will be so damn good. I’ve got a front row table reserved. Booked.
Yet, I digress.
Just know, I love my music.
One of my all-time favorites is the late, great John Denver. And, one of his best songs ever — in my less-than-humble opinion — is the song “Somedays are Diamonds…”
I play it every single day of my life. Every. Single. Day. And, it rings so true to me. From the day he recorded it. To my life today.
The chorus goes like this:
“Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.”
Last week, I got to live both ends of that song.
One of my days, was, well, all Diamonds. The best of the best. The brightest of the brightest. The shiniest of the shiniest. As brilliant as the yellow stone that is perched on the left hand of my beautiful bride. I put the ring on the right left hand this time, as the late, great George Jones would warble.
And, one of my days was, well, stones. Sometimes, you know, the hard times just won’t leave you alone. On Saturday, the cool wind blew a chill in my bones.
Such is life in the horse sport, where the “Highs Shine Very Bright,” and the “Lows Sting Just a Might.”
Such is life in the horse business, where you have no business being if you are prone to be the faint of heart and allergic to disappointment.
Such is life, I think, these days, too.
Such was my life last week.
If you read this column very often — or even at all — you know by now that I love my horses, too. Maybe even more so than my music.
Outside of my precious family members, whom I love so much, and a few friends who have managed to put up with me through the years and I cherish so much, my horses are my refuge. They are the ones I visit when I want to hide. They are the ones I talk to when I want to be right. They rarely talk back. They are the ones that seem to understand, even if they don’t. They are the ones who seem to give back all, even if they can’t. And, they are my joy and prides.
I’ve got two of them at the racetrack right now.
They are half-sisters and their stalls back up to each other at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, KY. You can often find them each at the back of their respective stalls. Sisters chatting the day away.
They are the pupils of trainer Stephen Lyster, a young man I have known since he and my son were both very young and became life-long friends.
I owned the fillies’ mother and I have watched both of them grow from simple foals into race horses now.
They have been my babies.
They have been my children.
They have been part of my family.
And, now I get to play by watching them go play.
They are my fun. Like my music, I love my horses.
And, last week, I got the rare chance to go and watch them both race. And, as you might guess by now?
One day was Diamond’s.
All Diamond’s and diamonds.
Last Monday, just a week ago, we drove up to Indiana Grand just a couple of hours North of Louisville, but a lifetime away when it comes to common sense. Owners and fans alike can go to the races there. We can eat in the Clubhouse. We can congregate , somewhat, in the paddock. And, we can celebrate life together.
And, that’s just what we did.
Diamond Solitaire — our 2YO filly by the majestic Majestic Harbor — got to run in her second career start. After her first effort — where she came running with a dash to be third despite a horrendous start — we were all hoping. And, truth be known, praying a little, too.
Diamond Solitaire did not disappoint. Not on this day. Not in this moment.
She shined bright. She glistened in the brilliant sunlight, in fact.
With jockey DeShawn Parker on her back, Diamond zoomed to the lead at the top of the stretch in the 6-furlong race and zipped off to an amazing 10-length win.
With each stride, the pride bubbled like the Champagne that came later.
With each muscle ripple, the joy overflowed the moment.
With each second closer to the finish line, our ownership group — which consists of about 23 people now — jumped, cheered, danced, sang, hugged and kissed a little more freely.
With all we could muster, we celebrated together. Most of all, though, we celebrated Diamond.
At picture time, our group measured 37 people. (Please don’t tell Andy. I’m sure he would make us all quarantine.)
At picture time, we all took turns patting Diamond.
At picture time, we all took turns laughing; living.
It was Diamond’s day.
After all, some days are Diamonds.
On Saturday, Leigh Ann and I got up and drove out to Churchill Downs to watch Diamond’s half-sister Miss Jacqueline return to the races.
I wanted to believe that it was going to be the same. I wanted to believe that Miss J could do what she did last October in her first race of her career — and her last one until this past Saturday — when she won by nearly 6 lengths and gave us a thrill of a lifetime and our first win ever at famed Churchill Downs.
I wanted to feel the same excitement.
I wanted to feel the same thrill.
I wanted to jump high — both inside and out.
But on this Saturday, something just didn’t look the same. It didn’t feel right.
The great Churchill Downs’ was nearly empty. The place was so quiet that you could hear the flags flapping on the pole. The seats were covered up. The chatter of the jockeys could be heard, like we had some listening device attached to their silks.
There was no excitement. No moment. No energy. No anticipation. No sense of urgency or thrill.
It was, to be honest, depressing.
And, things only got worse.
Some days are stones.
Miss Jacqueline broke poorly from the gate and lost all chance in her return to the races for the first time in 11 months.
Pit meet stomach.
Stomach meet throat.
Throat meet gag.
Oh, Miss J ran hard. She always does that. She knows no other gear. No other way.
At times, both Stephen and I thought she ran well, too. Especially considering she hasn’t been in a race for 11 months.
But, at the end, she just wasn’t able to make up the ground that she had lost in the beginning. At the wire, she was 5th. She was beaten about 5 lengths for it all.
As she headed back to be unsaddled, I felt poorly for Miss Jacqueline — a filly who has always given her heart and soul to do her best. She had a sad look in her eye. I could sense her disappointment.
There was no winner’s circle photo to be had. There were no admiring fans to be gathered. There was no thrill. Just quiet. Too much quiet.
On the way home, Leigh Ann and I sat in silence, too. Not much to say. Not much to reflect on. Not nearly as much fun as we enjoyed on Monday.
Until, LA finally reached up and turned on the music.
Until, LA turned on John Denver.
Some days are Diamonds…
Some days are Stones…
After the song ran its’ course, LA looked over at me and smiled.
“Thank goodness for the Diamonds,” she said. “I like them a lot more.”
Well said, my lady.
I do, too.
Diamond Solitaire shined bright:
(Diamond Solitaire was alone in the paddock and even more alone at the finish line of her second career race — drawing off under jockey DeShawn Parker to win by 10 lengths)
(We had high hopes going in. We were on Cloud Nine coming out.)
(Diamond brought cheers and smiles all around.)
(We had 37 people in the winner’s circle. Here’s a sampling.)
(The paddock scene was mild.)
(The post parade was mild.)
(The winner’s circle was wild.)
And, then again, some days are stones…Miss Jacqueline stumbled at the gate and her run was just too late…
(After a horrid start, Miss Jacqueline was only able to get up for 5th in her return to the races at Churchill Downs on Sept. 19)