For a variety of reasons, the last week or so has been a tough one around the Backstretch household. An unexpected death in one of my communities has left many of us shaken, and it’s not every day that a jet lands in the water just a few miles from my home. Though that outcome was stunningly miraculous, the event was unnerving to say the least.
In times of distress, we often turn to the animals for comfort, but I gotta tell you, that’s not bringing such good news these days, either. Madison is an awfully sick kitty, and while the immediate prognosis is guardedly optimistic (I think), the return of my spritely, inquisitive feline isn’t coming quite fast enough to satisfy me.
And life at the barns has reminded me of the old axiom never to fall in love with a race horse. Within the last month or so, three of them have exited from my life, in not entirely unexpected but no less upsetting ways.
A couple of weeks ago, Irish Blast was claimed by Raul Ramos, a Suffolk trainer who’s come to Aqueduct for the winter. Last Friday, Mrs. Holden was claimed by Paul Barrow, who appears to be based at Finger Lakes. These were horses in Allen Jerkens’ barn (racing for Mike Hushion while Jerkens is in Florida), and I met both of them at the Middleburg Training Center, long before they were racehorses.
Early in January, Dom Galluscio’s Early Response was claimed by Steve Asmussen and Maggi Moss. I met this guy early in the Saratoga meet, a two-year-old Hook and Ladder colt who made a tremendously exciting début in the slop at Saratoga last summer, losing by a whisker.
Their names are in my watch list, their stalls a regular stop on my trip to the backstretch. It’s weird to see another trainer’s name listed in the program; it’s weird to see another horse in their stalls. I don’t think that I’ll have permission to walk up to them in the paddock before their next start.
It’s part of the game, I know. You can’t fall in love with them, I know. You’ve got to be prepared to lose them, I know (even when they’re not, technically, yours).
I know, I know, I know. But I don’t have to like it, and that knowledge doesn’t stop me from feeling wistful, or sad, or regretful, when horses that I’ve petted and fed and watched grow up are whisked away, not only from familiar barns, but perhaps from familiar tracks as well.
Some idiot Tennyson advises us that, “’Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.” Easy for him to say: I’ll bet that old Alfred Lord T. wasn’t a racing fan.