The last time I was on a horse, it was to appease my then-5-year-old at a small park outside a zoo in San Diego. Thankfully, my version of Secretariat was made of wood, painted blue and yellow and mounted on a post. The only galloping it did was simulated to the sounds of circus music.
My daughter was the lucky one. Her seat for the day resembled the flaming chariot in “The Hunger Games.” She always did get the better ride.
What little I know about the Sport of Kings is restricted to more trips around the carousel than is required by law of any parent and movies, where Robert Redford was either whispering to a horse or Tobey Maguire was making one a symbol of hope during the Great Depression.
But admiring the pursuit of history is not a finite emotion based on vast knowledge. This is especially true in sports, where our independent nature is often transformed into a sense of community.
We become enthusiastic followers of the potential for greatness.
In this way, I hope I’ll Have Another has one championship race left in him.
If horses could read, and sometimes I wonder about the possibility when perusing email responses to columns, the most famous chestnut colt this side of New York today would think his chances of winning the Triple Crown right up there alongside Cigar emerging from retirement a fertile stallion.
The doubts about I’ll Have Another are sewn tightly into a drought that has reached 34 years. Affirmed in 1978 was the last horse to survive and conquer the five-week odyssey that is winning three races in three states at three distances.
Eleven horses have managed to do so, including Secretariat – the one not mounted on a post.
If you believe what many who actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to thoroughbred racing suggest, I’ll Have Another would have an easier time making a cross-country journey in the dead of summer with no water than winning the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Some, though, think he has a chance if his jockey remembers not to go out too fast on that vast oval in Elmont, N.Y., a popular mistake made previously by those directing Triple Crown hopefuls.
“It’s really hard to win it with the way horses are treated nowadays, when they typically get four to five weeks off between starts,” national handicapper Richard Eng said. “(I’ll Have Another) will be asked to do something he won’t be asked to do the rest of his career – run five races, which included his prep for the Kentucky Derby, in 13 weeks. That’s a very, very busy schedule.”
Here’s the deal: It’s a horse. I’m guessing its biggest concern is convincing his owner to expedite the whole put-out-to-stud process.
He lets others worry about things such as racing officials not allowing him to wear the nasal strip he did in winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, or his exercise rider missing valuable time leading up to the Belmont, or him and 11 other hopefuls being moved to detention barns until race time, which I suppose is what happens when no one gets along in the paddock at lunchtime and one horse gives another a wedgie.
It didn’t even seem to shake I’ll Have Another this week when some lunatic runaway horse almost collided with him during a morning training session, though I’m not sure how he reacted to hearing a gunshot behind the barn minutes later and not seeing the lunatic horse at feeding time. (Joking … I think.)
I’ll Have Another is the betting favorite for the first time in his Triple Crown pursuit, opening at 4-5 on Wednesday and drawing the 11 post, which I am told is a poor starting gate when compared to past winners.
It also has been noted that of the six colors describing those who have won the Belmont, chestnut is a clear leader with 55. Yes. There are people who track these things. I suddenly feel pretty good about all those carousel rides.
I’ll hope for the best for I’ll Have Another come Saturday. I’m big on the pursuit of history and excellence.
Eng thinks the horse can win if jockey Mario Gutierrez doesn’t move too fast, but he reminds me quickly of Smarty Jones in 2004. He went off as a 2-5 favorite in his Triple Crown moment at the Belmont and finished second.
“He looked like the nuts and couldn’t get it done,” Eng said. “He got ganged up on, and his jockey was sucked into it and went too fast too soon. He was really good.
“He was the nuts.”
The last time I was on a horse, he wasn’t the nuts.
But he sure did gallop in stride to that circus music.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.