Why Own a Racehorse: The Best of Times; The Toughest of Times, Too — First Kiss Retired

(First Kiss in the paddock at Churchill Downs on KY Oaks Day / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

On Wednesday night, the day after Christmas 2018, we had a grand celebration at the McLean Annual Family Christmas.

Mom made another terrific holiday dinner. The country ham and pea salad. To die for.

We played $10 gift games, accompanied by our traditional singing of “Jack of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds.” Oh how the family loves it when I rev up that old-styled country classic. My dad was the only one that truly knew the lyrics, but we still hum along. No matter what. Dad loved that song and we will always sing it. As long as I’m around, we will always sing it.

For those dying to know, here they are:

“Jack of diamonds, Jack of diamonds, I know you of old
You have robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold
Tis raining, ’tis hailing, ’tis a dark stormy night
And my horses cannot travel for the moon gives no light.”
“My horses cannot travel for the moon gives no light
Go put up your horses and feed them some hay
Then sit down beside me till the light of the day
My horses ain’t hungry, they won’t eat your hay.
“So fair thee well, darlin’, I’ll be on my way
So fair thee well, darlin’, I’ll be on my way
I’ll build me a cabin on the mountain so high
Where the wild geese can see me as they pass me by.
“As sure as the dewdrop grows on the green corn
Last night you were with me but today you are gone
Last night you were with me but today you are gone.”
Fun was had by all.
And, then, after the congregation had been dismissed, my lovely bride, LA, and I huddled up in the living room with my sister, my brother-in-law, Arthur, and my lovely mom to watch our beautiful filly — who we own in partnership with our great friends Mike & Laura Schnell and our trainer Stephen Lyster — First Kiss run in a Maiden Special Weight event up at Turfway Park.
It was a “Special” race, alright. First Kiss won her “First Race” in spectacular, fun, exciting fashion. There we all were: standing, cheering, dancing, clapping. All the way to the finish line.
It was a “Special” day.
It was a “Special” night.
It was a Christmas miracle.
Fun was had by everyone — including First Kiss.
First Kiss looked to be developing into the runner that we all hoped that she would be. First Kiss looked to be ready to fulfill the promise that she had shown before in the mornings. First Kiss looked to be on the brink of being good. Really good.
(First Kiss is a beauty)
And, then Thursday came. The phone call early in the morning woke me, and when I saw it was from Stephen, a chill suddenly came a calling. Seems as if First Kiss returned home to Lexington with an injury to her right front ankle. The veterinarian had been called. He was coming to check on her.
And, then Friday came. The report was in. First Kiss had sustained a fracture in her right front ankle.
The injury was not life-threatening, thank the Good Lord. She will be OK. She will be fine. She will heal.
But the injury was career-ending.
Jubilation meet disappointment.
Excitement meet excruciating.
The best of times meet the worse of times.
Horse racing meet horse racing.
Now, we stand on another brink. So, the page now turns.
Instead of looking forward to the next race, we will now begin looking for a possible new home where First Kiss may become a broodmare and a mother. The beautiful-looking filly has a pedigree that is equally beautiful. She is by one of the world’s top stallions in Smart Strike. She is out of a Graded Stakes-Winning mare in Bridge Game. And, her female family has also produced the fantastic stallion Tiznow.
(First Kiss also has a beautiful pedigree)
There is plenty of potential. And, we will look to give her a chance to reach it — one way or another.
So, we look ahead. Still, the words of that favorite song now sting just a bit.
“Jack of diamonds, Jack of diamonds, I know you of old
You have robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold
Tis raining, ’tis hailing, ’tis a dark stormy night
And my horses cannot travel for the moon gives no light.”
“My horses cannot travel for the moon gives no light
Go put up your horses and feed them some hay
Then sit down beside me till the light of the day
My horses ain’t hungry, they won’t eat your hay.”

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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