(Trainer Stephen Lyster and our very own Diamond Solitaire head home to Lexington after running a gut-wrenching, and, yet, galant 2nd in the First Lady Stakes at Indiana Grand on Wednesday. So proud of her courage. So proud of her effort. So proud of her.)

It was a grand day at Indy Grand in Shelbyville, IN. In so, so many ways.

We won 7 of the 9 races on the card and had 8 Exactas on the day, as well. Handicapping was pretty darn good, even if I say so myself.

Check.

We had a great turkey club sandwich and plenty of cold malt beverages. Truddy, our food and beverage manager for the day, was expert. That was great.

Check.

We had a wonderful time with the most wonderful staff in the entire world. Accommodating. Friendly. Fun. Cheerful. They were great, per usual.

Check.

Then we came to our race — the First Lady Stakes — in the 8th, when Diamond Solitaire was attempting to win her first Stakes event.

As in?

Ever.

Oh, she has placed in Stakes before. She has run 2nd in Stakes before. She has always run very well in Stakes before.

But we had never made it to the winner’s circle in a Stakes before. And, it is on our “Check List,” too.

Unfortunately for us, we ran into a bit of an obstacle on our glory road to stardom on Wednesday.

And, we ran into our “sister,” who Diamond grew up with; still Winter’s with at Deerfield Farm near Louisville; and is so familiar with that we could look eye-to-eye in the very next starting gate stall on Wednesday with full recognition and familiarity.

We ran into and up against Pearl Tiara — a talented filly who has gotten so very good at age 3 (having won three races and two Stakes in a row) that she is rapidly becoming are “arch nemesis” in addition to a bit of a relative.

We ran into my great friend’s — David and Lori Hebel Osborne’s “other” filly.

We ran into our partner’s other home-bred filly.

We ran into trouble.

Heart-breaking trouble.

You see…

Despite a lack of real pace, we ran down Pearl Tiara in the deep stretch and passed her nearing the finish line. For about four or five strides we held the lead. That damn finish line was close. So close. You could hear us all — either in our voices or our screams — yelling for the line.

“Line. Line. Where’s the damn line?”

We ran the best race of our lives. We ran our blood pressure and heart rate up. We ran down the apron along with her, shouting and screaming.

So close.

Yet. So. Far. Away.

Yet, not close enough. And, still, not good enough.

At the very end, Pearl stuck her neck in front just when it mattered most — at the line.

We had run into a heartbreak.

Check mate.

Congrats must go to Pearl Tiara, and her trainer, Tim Glyshaw. Congrats must go to her owners, led by David & Lori Osborne and the most gracious lady ever — Carol Hebel. Never has there been a more gracious and loving group of horse owners. Congrats must go to a tremendous effort and gallant courage.

And, at the same time, our love and admiration for Diamond only grew. She always tries, but on Wednesday she gave it all. She put it all on the line. She put it all out there. As much as we could push, we pushed. As much as we wanted, we screamed. And, as much as she could try, our grinder grunted and gave.

We just ended up a neck short. The finish line was a neck too far away. Damn finish line.

And, at the same time, our hearts and hopes fell.

In all my years of racing horses, and loving each of them to some degree, I don’t think I have ever suffered a tougher loss to a better group of people. While happy for them — and truly I was and am — I wanted this same exhilaration for our Diamond. I wanted it for her, because I thought she deserved it. That life owed her one. That maybe, just this one time, the racing God’s could even the score a bit.

You see, Diamond has never had life easy. She lost her mom early in her life due to a severe colic attack, and Diamond suffered a broken leg at the same tender age on the way to the clinic that fateful day. She had to get her milk and love from the world’s greatest nurse mare, Geri. She had to get her care, too, from her incredible “human mom,” Lori. Yep, the same lady who owns Pearl.

You see, Diamond had to spend the early months of her life isolated in a round pen next to her stall. In the field next door, Pearl and others got to romp and play. Diamond, I’m sure, dreamed of joining them one day. Some day.

You see, Diamond has always been a bit star-crossed, although we have always dream of star-struck.

I thought, for just a moment on Wednesday, Diamond could be the one to catch a dream and catch that elusive break in life.

But, you see, racing is not made that way. To be the best, you have to be the best. On race day. At that moment. You must earn it. You must win it. You must find it on your own. No gimmes. No mulligans. No freebies.

On this Wednesday, we ran a neck short. We ran out of luck.

My heart didn’t like it much. Admittedly? I didn’t handle it very well. Gut punch. And, I’m not a fighter anymore. But that’s just the way this sport is built. It was a heart punch.

Diamond didn’t like it, either. She was a tough walk on the way back to the barn and she refused to “pee” in the testing barn forever. She really didn’t like it much when I climbed into the barn stall after the race, and attempted to love on her neck. She was mad as hell and not much in a giving mood. Yet, she relinquished a bit and allowed a hug or two. I kissed her neck and told her that I loved her. She seemed to nod back. I will take it as a nod.

Diamond’s trainer, Stephen Lyster, who is one of the best people I have ever met in my entire life and I’m so proud to call my own, hosed her off and cleaned her feet. He wrapped her legs in bandages and got her ready for travel back to Lexington and her home. He nuzzled up close and grabbed her neck and blew the dirt and grind out of her eyes, which had collected there during the race. He finished with a kiss right on the forehead.

The bond between trainer and horse was obvious. They are not tied at the hip. They are tied at the heart.

As the two of them walked off towards the trailer, I suddenly realized one thing in my life. A life’s lesson at my advanced age of 65. One that I will never forget. Ever.

I realized that we may not have won the race; won our first Stakes race together.

I realized that we may have lost the event; lost the battle to that damn elusive finish line.

I realized that we may have run 2nd to Pearl for the second straight time.

But I also realized one other major thing, as the last of the tears rolled down my chubby-ass face.

If ever and even possible, I realized I had fallen in love with Diamond even more.

I realized I had found a deep appreciation and respect for her. Even more than I thought possible.

I realized I had won. A valuable life lesson. There are winner’s circles on the front side. But there are winner’s circles in the barn. There are winner’s circles in the heart.

And, I realized that I was standing right in the middle of that one. And, I realized this right here — this moment, right here — is why I own a racehorse. Not only in the good times. But in the tough ones, as well.

You always wish the best for your children. You want them to exceed and succeed. You want the best for them. Always. It is just the way of the world for parents.

On Wednesday, we did not win the Stakes race. Damnit to hell.

But our “baby” did exceedingly well. Our baby succeeded. She gave her best and did her best. And, while we walked away with a bit of a broken heart — for her — we walked away with our spirit and love fully in tact — for her.

We walked away with our spirit and love runneth over — because of her.

We won the biggest race. We won life’s race.