Why Own a Racehorse: The Love of a Youngster Warms Your Heart on a Bone-Chilling Day

(Diamond Solitude and I got caught up this morning. She was exactly what I needed on a cold morning. Photo by Lori Hebel-Osborne)

Just when you thought, for just a second, that things could not get much colder, and brutal, you hear the chilling news of a catastrophe at Churchill Downs. Just minutes after the alarm signaled the start to another day this morn, the twitter feed began to ring alarming news, as well.

A horse had broken down during training.

A rider had gone down with the ship.

Neither one survived.

The news was cold. The news was brutal. The news stung like the temps that barely reached freezing. And, the horrid news cut to the heart like the wind — drilling right to the bone.

It was an awful start to a brilliant sun-lit day. It was just an awful start.

So, when the text message lit up my telephone screen and hit my eyes, I jumped at the sight. Great friend, and horse “mom” Lori Hebel-Osborne was working this morning at Deerfield Farm and wanted to know if I wanted to drive out to see our weaning filly.

She didn’t have to ask twice. Not this morning.

Just a few minutes after getting the invite, I texted back. “On my way.”

The whole time it took to drive out to beautiful Oldham County, I couldn’t switch my mind and thoughts off the news of tragedy. I wondered about this man, who gave his life — figuratively, and now literally — to an industry that he loved. I wondered about his family, and how they would adjust. I wondered how life can be so wonderful and beautiful and majestic in one instant, and then, suddenly, without warning, turn so dramatically opposite. I wondered a lot.

I even wondered about the weanling filly I was about to see.

You see, she, too, has experienced tragedy this year. Just a couple of weeks after her birth, her momma was stricken with a severe bout of colic. In the midst of that incident, the baby was apparently kicked and her little, right, front leg was fractured. And, by the time the two of them made it to the clinic, the mom was so severely stricken that there was no way to save her life.

Just a couple of weeks into her young life, the little filly was now orphaned and suffering a leg injury of her own. I wondered how she must have felt. Scared, no doubt. Scarred, no doubt. Hurting, both inside and out. No doubt.

I wondered why life could be so cruel. I wondered why life could be so tough. I wondered. All the way to the farm. I wondered.

Until I arrived. Until I got out of my truck and walked into the barn. Until I grabbed some peppermints and rolled into the stall with the weanling filly and her “adopted mom” Geri — the best nurse mare that ever walked on God’s green Earth. Until I got down on one knee and put my arms around my sleepy, baby filly. And, until she laid her beautiful head over on my arm and went right back to sleep. Sound asleep.

Suddenly, all the cold went away. Suddenly, the warmth of life and love swept over me. Suddenly, I knew my “baby” — whom I left a couple of months ago in the capable and loving arms of Lori and her wonderful horseman/husband, David — recognized me and welcomed me back to her “home.”

Suddenly, I knew — again — why you own a racehorse.

After her nap, the weaning filly — by Majestic Harbor and out of my ill-fated mare Diamond Seeker — got to her feet, and immediately sniffed my face; nibbled my long locks; buried her cold nose into my neck; and looked me right in the eye, as if to say, “Where in the hell have you been, goldilocks?”

Lori laughed and grabbed her phone/camera. “She’s smelling you again. They never forget you after they have done that, you know,” she said. “She remembers you.”

While Gerri gobbled as many of the peppermints as she could, the baby and I got reacquainted and went for a little stroll outside. We took some pictures. We took some time. We enjoyed the company.

For awhile, the cruel reality of life, and the depressing news of the morning, had been swept away by the warm feeling of reunion, and the promise of what might be some day in the future.

For that time, I knew that the dreams to tomorrow always out-weigh the nightmares of yesterday.

I don’t know why Lori called me this morning. But I am glad she did. My visit with my friends and our filly was exactly what I needed on a cold day. Exactly.

(Our beautiful weanling filly and I got to spend some quality time today. Photo by Lori Hebel-Osborne)

And, of course, my favorite photo in a long time:

(I had to wake up “Baby Di” this a.m. Photo by Lori Hebel-Osborne)




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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