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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Great Alabaster Hope

It's Derby week. To most people in my circle that doesn't mean much, and it never used to mean much to me. But I have some friends to whom Derby week is a bit like Christmas week around here, and thanks to them I've come to appreciate thoroughbred horse racing. I'm a virgin about the sport, don't really understand whispered track conversations like "he's a mudder 'cause his mudder was a mudder." Not to mention I'm a bad gambler. Pretty much anything on which I bet causes a lighter pocketbook. Still, I appreciate the horse tradition. I always want to know which horses to watch in the Kentucky Derby because the Derby is the first breathtaking leg of the Triple Crown, a prize not awarded since Affirmed won by a nose at Belmont in 1978. The Derby is exciting because once we have a winner in Kentucky the run for the Triple Crown begins, and anything is possible.

I've been rooting for a Triple Crown winner since I attended my first Belmont in 2002 and shouted, along with a hundred thousand others, for War Emblem to take it all. I wanted to be there as the first Triple Crown winner crossed the finish line in 24 years. It was not to be. War Emblem stumbled coming out of the gate and never pulled himself together. I remember clutching my filmy ticket on which War Emblem's name was stamped next to "win," and then watching it flutter to the floor when he lost to long-shot Sarava, ultimately finishing 6th.

For the next few years there were other contenders. Funnycide in 2003, Smarty Jones in 2004, and the UPS darling, Big Brown, who won the Derby and the Preakness and who I, with my utter lack of racing knowledge, predicted would be crowned at Belmont in 2008. I could feel it, I told my horse-wise friends. As I said, I'm not a good gambler. Not only did Big Brown fail to win at Belmont, he came in dead last, having been pulled up by his jockey and assigned the dubious honor of being the first Belmont favorite  of all time to finish at the back of the pack.

Now it's been 33 years since we've had a winner of the coveted triple prize, captured in the past by such familiar names as Man o' War, Seattle Slew, Citation, and the champion dubbed "Super Horse,"  Secretariat, who won the Belmont by an astonishing 31 lengths in 1973 (click the following link to watch Secretariat's win http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cS4f6wiQJh4). While not an avid racing fan (although I may sound like one),  I long for a Triple Crown winner.  I want to see in real time, albeit on television, as the next champion speeds along those arcs of track and crosses the finish line. We are overdue.

And so it is that every year I ask my friend which horses to watch, turning my eye to the ponies the first weekend in May to the first weekend in June. This time the names are Bodemeister, Union Rags, and Gemologist. Then there's the white horse, unusual in a thoroughbred I'm told, whose name is Hansen. Tomorrow I'll be cheering for him, for no other reason than he is a horse of a different color in a field of bays and chestnuts, a gleaming winner whose job it is dash through his paces in three springtime events that bring throngs of roaring fans to Louisville, Baltimore, and Elmont, Long Island. White horses are rare, and while technically Hansen is considered "a gray," his milky color brings to mind horses of tradition and legend. George Washington rode a white horse, as did Napoleon, Lady Godiva, the Lone Ranger, and Gandalf, from Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings. White horses carry mythical and magical qualities, representing power and purity and glory. What glory indeed for a snowy steed to win the greatest prize in horse racing after three-plus decades of waiting.

First, though, Hansen must earn his roses at "the most exciting two minutes in sports." His flash of white for a mile and a quarter will set the stage for what might become the most exciting three races in a long time, races that feature an alabaster horse charging into history. Fingers here in central New York, far from the hats and stables and hopes and dreams and mint juleps of Churchill Downs, are very crossed.


Connie said...

I was puttering around in the kitchen last fall while the television murmured Breeders Cup coverage in the next room. I heard the name "Hansen" mentioned as an entry in the next race and stopped what I was doing. "Wait," I thought. "Hansen? Isn't that a horse who's already won the Triple Crown?" It was such a strange feeling of familiarity.

I watched the race thinking, "Duh, of course Hansen will win." I watched that magical-looking "white" horse weave through a dark herd and he won. Of course. It was as though I'd gotten tomorrow's paper today.

Hansen was crowned 2-Year-Old of the Year. I added him to my Kentucky Derby Fantasy Stable contest and watched him win 4 out of 6 races. He was second by a length in his last race, but he already had his Derby ticket punched and didn't really need to knock himself out.

I don't know for sure if Hansen has got the stamina and heart to win the Kentucky Derby. He's facing a lot of impressive champions and there are at least 5 horses running Saturday who have never been worse than third in their career (including him).

I'll be rooting for him and won't be able to keep my eyes off his amazingly pale form. Besides, he already won the Triple Crown, right?

Kathleen Yasas said...

Thanks, Connie. Great tale.

Quibbley said...

I hope the owner, Dr. Hanson, refrains from dying Hanson's tail (again), or dying any others portions of his amazingly pale form. Seems like a good guy, and I hope that odd idea was a one-off. If not the owners of the darker horses will be into bleaching soon. Oh...and he'll be running in a field of "dark horses" won't he?

Connie said...


Dr. Hansen made the ridiculous suggestion of dyeing Hansen's tail blue for the Kentucky Wildcats, but cooler heads prevailed and the Jockey Club refused his tacky request.

Good one about the dark horses!

Kathleen Yasas said...

I'm afraid, with my history of always cheering for the wrong horse, that I've already jinxed poor Hansen, blue tail or not. That Bodemeister is trouble...

aeba1a32-4a73-11e0-aec0-000bcdcb2996 said...

That troublemaker Bodemeister just almost won the race.

I'll Have Another has excellent prospects as a Triple Crown contender. On that note, I'll have another!

codie buster said...

dear aeba1a32-4a73-11eo-aeco-ooobcdcb2996,

Are you a Bot, an alien, or from Arkansas?

aeba1a32-4a73-11e0-aec0-000bcdcb2996 said...

Codie buster,

None of the above. Have you not busted the code yet?

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum