By Jenny Bridle
(Courtesy of http://www.fasttrack.hk)
With all the negativity coming out of Australian racing these days, it can be challenging to stay focussed on what can be so great about horse racing. In case anyone needs reminding, this is a sport that has more than its fair share of truly feel good moments. Sometimes we forget about these and about why we continue to believe because we can get caught up in what the very few may or may not be doing that brings the sport into disrepute. To this end, I am compiling feel good horse racing stories to keep as a reminder. This list is just an initial effort and no doubt will grow and new stories unfold. Don’t like this list? Please feel free to share yours.
What better way to start off than with Red Cadeaux, the 10 year old currently on his way to a fifth attempt at the Melbourne Cup. This great British horse even has a barn named after him at the Cup’s racecourse, Flemington in Melbourne. Although he has never been successful at winning the Cup, he always gives his best. He has earned the most prize money for any horse from the UK with almost £5m in earnings. And, where hasn’t this horse raced? More, when hasn’t he paid his way? His record speaks for itself: 53 Starts, 7 Wins, 13 Places, 7 Shows with £4,998,408 in the UK, UAE, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore.
Known as “Ireland’s Seabiscuit,” Gordon Lord Byron’s story is an absolute inspiration. Bought for less than $3,000, he fractured his pelvis in his first race and required significant stall rest. While he may not win every race, the story of Gordon Lord Byron’s return from injury is the stuff of Hollywood movies. For a horse to come back from such an injury, travel the world racing in Hong Kong, Dubai, Ireland, France and Australia and like, Red Cadeaux, pretty much always paying his way is surely a story that will make us all feel good.
Not all feel good stories are rags-to-riches tales. To my mind, the best of these other stories, which are more about achievement, at the moment is the story of the great French filly Treve. Treve is a home bred of the Head-Maarek family. At only 5, she already has a stunning race record, having won France’ signature race the Arc at 3 years old and again at 4 years old in 2014. This year she is pointed toward a third attempt. Treve has had some physical challenges and was retired after her 2nd Arc victory only to brought back into racing looking fitter than ever. In her recent Qatar Prix Vermeille victory she showed her truly awesome form crossing the wire six lengths ahead of her rivals.
So many stories, so many horses. Another one that comes to mind is just-retired Wise Dan, the great American turf horse, raced by his breeder, 85 year old Morton Fink. After getting though several health problems, Fink once noted having his homebred in his life had helped him live longer. This two-time Horse of the Year, healed and raced again following colic surgery and then a fracture in his foot. He is a fan favourite in North America and even has a custom hashtag on Twitter: #WiseDanWednesday
Recently named Tasmanian Horse of The Year, The Cleaner, whose original purchase price was a mere $10k is another great story for the feel good list. Trainer Mick Burles bought him as a retirement horse but was forced to sell him to his golfing partners. This perennial fan favourite is 8 years old in 2015 and shows no signs of slowing down. He has 50 starts with 18 wins and A$1,038,021 in prize money and is currently pointed at the Cox Plate.
Not to exclude the $1250 Takeover Target and his owner, taxi driver Joe Janiak who, with jockey Jay Ford, won over A$6m and deserve a blog post all to themselves, another horse from the same area of the world is the recently retired Polanski. Purchased for just A$4,000 by Trainer Robbie Laing, Polanski had an amazing but short-lived career, his finest moment coming in winning Australia’s signature race the Victoria Derby at Flemington by a 3 length margin.
No doubt there are many more of these kinds of stories. Racing should be telling the world about each and every one of them because its through stories like these that the sport can show its very human side because, sometimes, it’s the human stories that make us feel good about our sport. A recent story on ESPN noted that “At Kentucky Downs on Wednesday, as a 50-1 bolt of extraordinary providence, Kalamos won the $150,000 Old Friends Stakes,” which it turns out is more than a story about winning when the odds are long.
By winning this particular race, this horse also won a spot at Old Friends Farm in Kentucky, where he will be guaranteed a long retirement when his racing days are over. It’s also the story of Edward Boerjan, horse owner, “working stiff,” cancer battler who trains his own racehorse by trail riding and who said after his victory that “When I’m on top of him riding those trails, I’m in another world, and nobody can bother me, no cancer, nobody.”
A similar story from Australia has owner Phil Sly, also battling cancer, who keeps on fighting because, as he says, his horses give him the will to live. “I’m pushing on. I have steel ribs and my liver looks like something from ET,’’ he told the Herald Sun in an interview earlier this year. After his initial diagnosis, doctors had only given him six months to live. After the diagnosis, he acquired his first horse, Mosheen, and said recently, “thanks to him, we’re heading into our fifth year.”
And while the horses can have an impact on their people for the better, many “horse people” go above and beyond for the animals they love so much.
While the sport, like life, ebbs and flows with positives and negatives, sometimes the best feel good stories of horse racing are neither and both – extremely tragic and sad but also profound reflections of the generosity of the human spirit and what it means to care, to maintain the faith, in spite of everything.