Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Racing Heart

Yesterday, on The Second Race Facebook page, I posted the question "Who is Your Favorite Race Horse of All Time, and Why?". The answers where as expected, John Henry, Seabiscuit, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and Ruffian. There were many that felt Zenyatta was their favorite of all time. The mare has garnered a well deserved following, evidenced by the responses and love she inspires for racing. Eight Belles was chosen for her fighting spirit and untimely death following her incredible Kentucky Derby run in 2008.

What was enjoyable to read were how many of the race horses helped people through tough times in their lives. Whether famous or not, many commented on overcoming the death of a loved one, a divorce or how an emotional period of life was alleviated due to the spirit of competition and the joy of watching an equine athlete compete on the grand stage.

For me, War Emblem was the first race horse that captured completely my attention. It was 2002 and I was watching the Kentucky Derby on television at a local watering hole. I had watched the Triple Crown races for years on television, attended the races occasionally at Santa Anita, and would go to Los Alamitos a few times a year to catch the action at night. I have loved horses my entire life. My earliest memory was at three years of age, and knowing that horses would be with me in my heart forever. But for racing I was just a casual fan. I knew the famous names, but didn't follow racing. I wish I had.

War Emblem was a picture in the post parade, a sleek black Ferrari he gave me a chill, and I knew beyond a doubt he was going to win the race. The pre-race pageantry, his trainer Bob Baffert and his owner the Prince added to the charm of War Emblem. The gates opened, and the rest was history. Victor rode the colt to victory. I screamed the loudest and was hooked.

In 2003 and 2004 I watched everything that Smarty Jones did. The gorgeous chestnut with the crazy forelock, had tons of charisma. He quickly became a fan favorite from children to old timers. His heart couldn't be measured and for the first time I was caught up in the Triple Crown Fever.

Smarty seemed to be the first horse that I would see win the Triple Crown since becoming an avid racing fan two years prior. His loss to Birdstone was the singularly saddest moment for me in sports history. I am still not over it, and insult to injury was added when Ghostzapper won Horse of the Year. Smarty sadly, had been robbed again.

Those two race horses changed my viewing of racing and others after them caught my "racing heart". Brother Derek, Congaree, Rags to Riches, Afleet Alex, Curlin, and then of course Lava Man.

Lava Man, was the working man's horse. Relating to him was easy. He had the heart of a lion, a real warrior who outran his expectations and pedigree. It would take hours to explain the emotion he evokes in me to this day.

Lastly, and most importantly the horse that changed the trajectory of my life and shaped by purpose was Ferdinand. As I said I wasn't a racing fan when he ran. I did know the storied past of Ferdinand, but what was the life changer for me, was the death of our beloved Kentucky Derby winner in Japan. His reported slaughter was shocking to me. I didn't know about "racing's dirty secret", as it was later dubbed in the press. Because of Ferdinand, I went on to learn so much about what happens to some race horses when their careers are over. I learned about horses going to European markets to be food, and I learned that there weren't many places for geldings in particular to go to, when they were no longer competitive.

The Second Race was born from the beauty of War Emblem, Smarty Jones, and Lava Man but too, from the death Ferdinand. My life has changed dramatically because of each of them. The Second Race, in a small part hopes to pay tribute to each racing hero by changing the lives of many race horses in the years to come.

I can see no other way to pay back what they give to us.


  1. Well, said, Sharla! These wonderful horses give us so much, it's only right that we do what we can to give something back to them.

  2. dunewood o'neilJuly 8, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    Magnificent sentiment for magnificent creatures!

  3. Ferdinand's story brought tears to my eyes. What can we do?

  4. Ferdinand's story is very sad. I saw him and Alysheba race at Santa Anita when I was in middle school. Awesome!

    Just saw Smarty Jones a few weeks ago at Three Chimneys... he's looking good!

  5. It's my goal to be in Kentucky next year to promote The Second Race, and I will make sure to visit Three Chimneys!

  6. Ferdinand, War Emblem and Charismatic; all great horses. Every horse can't be saved..but now there is hope for so many more with Sharla's Second Race and other organizations that are taking up the slack on the backside of the track. Thanks for all you do. My Heros.


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