I have seen so many wonderful things in racing. There have been days that have made me smile, tear at the eyes, and kick myself good. But overall, I wouldn’t trade any of it for dollars or donuts…
I just watched Race #6 at Oaklawn Park. Now, you probably won’t see any real exciting news happening without a stake, or a big-time runner. But, you would be mistaken. I just watched Calvin Borel win his 5,000 race. Hezunusal won by about 7 lengths, and the winning time was 1:13. The best part of the celebration was the winner’s circle. He was doused by water, hit by cake, and hugged more than Santa Claus. You talk about a blue-collar rider, this guy is the poster child. His agent Jerry Hissam was so glad to work with me to have him as a guest on the Winning Ponies Internet Show. He had just ridden Mine that Bird to win the Derby, and his life was still on high speed. The best quote in the world came that night as I asked him how he felt about his successful career. “You know, we have had alot of success. To sum it up, we have gone from the shit-house to the White House.” Yep, Calvin… I think you are right. Congratulations on your milestone win!
I used to do a radio show with John Engelhardt for years. I grew up watching him on TV with the late-great Kevin Goemmer, and now I was his co-host doing our weekly radio show. Needless to say, I kinda’ liked the guy… It was my first year at River Downs, and there was an event at the time called “Riding for the Handicapped.” It has since changed names to a more appropriate Cincinnati Therapeutic Riding and Horsemanship. (CTRH) serves children and adults with disabilities by providing equine-assisted activities and therapies including adaptive recreational horseback riding, hippo-therapy, equine facilitated learning, and WORTH (Warrior’s Own Road to Horsemanship) programming for veterans.
Since 1985, they have served participants with a variety of disabilities including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, developmental delay, ADD, ADHD, stroke, visual and hearing impairments, and mental health issues. John had been the key emcee long before I had rolled into town, and he informed me that he could not make the show this week. I really didn’t have a clue, and was kinda’ miffed at my partner. That is, until I saw things up close and personal. Engelhardt was taking photos, arranging rides, directing jockeys who were taking part, and being the guy on the mic. You could say he was pretty busy, and he didn’t mind for one second. When I saw the kids smiling, and having tears of joy. I finally got the picture. There was something more important for him to do at the track that day.
The year was 2004, and I was doing pretty well on Saturday afternoon in June. Oh, did I mention that it was the Belmont Stakes day? I rolled all of my money into a major play on a runner. If you are still at a loss, just take the journey with me. I had pick-three’s, pick-four’s, trifectas, and a huge win bet. I guess it was fair to say I was all-in.
Tom Durkin made the call at the quarter pole that Smarty Jones was on top by three, and Birdstone was toiling in second. He said, ” It has been 26-years, and they are a quarter of a mile from history.” When they make the turn for home at Belmont, riders have claimed that you can get lost in the sweeping action of “Big Sandy.” Stewart Elliot had done very well aboard the colt, but he mainly rode the Philly Park circuit and some in Maryland. Belmont is a couple of steps higher, and it is a rider’s track. With an 1/8th of a mile he had a dwindling two length lead, and Birdstone was bearing down. Every time I watch, I keep thinking the outcome will change. But, that last 16th of a mile gets pretty heavy, and he folded quietly as history had to wait another day.
As I said, I still wouldn’t trade it for love or money. The track has been my love for years, and I think it always will be special in my heart. That is, second to the wonderful people and incredible events I have witnessed. So, thank you wagering gods for the many good days, and a heartfelt thank you to all of the folks who have made my journey so incredible.