The Little Amazon

Last October, I was sitting on the second floor of the Keeneland clubhouse. A friend and I had taken a break from the races for a little sustenance, and we settled ourselves in chairs near the windows, bread pudding and bourbon in hand.

The Belmont races were being simulcast on a big screen above us; immersed in the Bluegrass, I hadn’t glanced at a Belmont program; I had no idea what race it was, had no idea who was running.

But all of a sudden, a dark little speed demon on the grass caught our eyes. “Who’s that?” I asked her. “Wow…look at her go!”

Her name was Rose Catherine, and she won by eight and three-quarter lengths. It was her third start, her first try on grass, and her first win.

In seven subsequent starts on turf, including yesterday’s Turf Amazon at Parx Racing, Rose Catherine has been no worse than third. She was second by half a length to Tapitsfly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf; she’s won five times.

She is a little thing, and in her stall shows none of the aggression that she shows on the racetrack. She welcomes visitors, she accepts eagerly both carrots and mints, and stakes winner though she is, she is not too proud to beg for treats, or for attention.

She went in my watch list last October, and though I’ve followed her closely ever since, yesterday was the first chance I’ve had to see her in person. I arrived at Saratoga early expressly to see her run in the Lena Spencer on September 4th, but the woman who rammed me with her pick-up truck in the Saratoga parking lot that morning apparently had other ideas.

The winter of 2004 was the first year that I followed racing year-round; I had seen Afleet Alex that summer at Saratoga, and he was my first horse crush. I learned then how fun it is to find a young horse, to follow his successes…and in subsequent years, how rarely it happens, how rarely the horse crush works out. In racing as in life, crushes are often unrequited.

I debated whether to go to Parx yesterday, debated whether to stay at Belmont to watch Sara Louise, my 2008 crush, make her first start since last November. The chance to see, finally, Rose Catherine race in person pulled me south; I missed seeing Sara Louise and the Gallant Bloom, and she is still near and dear to my racing heart…but watching little Rose Catherine win her fourth in a row, was as satisfying a day at the races as I could have hoped for.

After that win at Saratoga, trainer Todd Pletcher expressed skepticism about running Rose Catherine in the Breeders’ Cup. “She’d have to race against older males there,” he said. Yesterday, after the filly won the Turf Amazon, Pletcher’s assistant Jonathan Thomas indicated that the Breeders’ Cup might indeed be a consideration.  “I don’t think [her connections] will need a lot of convincing,” he said.

And if that’s the case, there’s at least one more chance for me to see the little dark filly in person…at least on the racetrack.

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