By a Neck

There are only three times a year when my wife’s sports knowledge trumps mine: the three times we sit down together to watch horse racing’s Triple Crown.

When the topic’s baseball, basketball, football, hockey – it really doesn’t matter – we can talk about a game but I know that Candice is just being kind in carrying on the conversation. She would much rather discuss food, cooking, the spiritual life, architecture…pick a topic.

But I’m delighted to see her anticipation rise as post time draws near. There’s a good chance I’ll learn something new.

Candice grew up around thoroughbred racing and the sport comes naturally to her. As she wrote in the obituary for her father, Dr. Andrew C. Colando:

While in high school Pop began to race trotters at Yonker’s Raceway in New York on the weekends and his love affair with horse racing began.  He moved on to thoroughbred racing when his father bought some race horses.

 In 1950 he married Irene Holsey and his 58-year love affair with my mother began.  A few years later they moved their young family to Florida seeking a warmer climate, for this young veterinarian didn’t like the cold and did most of his work outside.  This began what our family called “The Great Migration” – Monmouth Park and the Jersey shore in the summers and Gulfstream, Tropical, and Hialeah Parks and Florida in the winters.  It was a good life.

A veterinarian for thoroughbred race horses, Dr. Colando taught his daughter well. He knew quality horses, having once trained the 1951 Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Miltie. In fact, Life magazine did a photo spread of Uncle Miltie that never ran once the horse was injured. Both photos with this post are from the Life archives, and my mother-in-law has a number of the originals.

This is a long introduction to the story of this post. Yesterday’s Preakness Stakes was certainly one of the most exciting horse races I’ve ever seen. Joe Drape in the New York Times has a great report, which makes you feel you’re riding with the eventual winner, I’ll Have Another, as the horse overtook the favorite Bodemeister.

As Smith and Bodemeister bounded out to an easy lead under leisurely fractions of 1 minute 11.72 seconds for six furlongs, Gutierrez didn’t look too smart.

He was spotting Bodemeister too many lengths — or at least that was what Smith thought. “I had slowed down the pace and had plenty of horse,” Smith said.

Even I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, was worried. “I was concerned, but Mario was keeping him in the clear,” he said.

As Bodemeister led the field of 11 into the far turn, Gutierrez and his colt cut inside and got behind Creative Cause, who had been tracking in second place. Still, Bodemeister’s trainer, Bob Baffert, was not worried. He thought Smith was sitting on a monster.

“I felt really good where he was,” Baffert said of Bodemeister. “It looked like he was traveling nicely.”

In an instant, Gutierrez dropped his reins and put his head down to urge on his colt. I’ll Have Another rounded the turn as if fired from a slingshot. When horse and rider hit the quarter pole, I’ll Have Another squared his shoulders and took aim at Bodemeister, who was gliding down the stretch as if on a conveyor belt.

Atop I’ll Have Another, Gutierrez knew something extraordinary was about to happen. He was flush with the feeling that he was merely a passenger on a winged horse.

“No one put him in this race,” he said with a mix of appreciation and disbelief. “He put himself into the race.”

In the stretch, I’ll Have Another was unleashing one ground-gobbling stride after another. The distance between him and Bodemeister was narrowing in a hurry.

But Candice – my astute observer of horse racing – had spotted this in the first turn.  Shortly after the horses broke from the gate, she asked, “Which one is the purple horse?” I answered, “That’s I’ll Have Another.” She said quietly, “He’s having a great ride.”

Mind you, they hadn’t reached the second pole. I’ll Have Another’s amazing stretch run was still to come.

I sometimes hate it when Candice is right, but this time it was fun to see how it all unfolded. We’ll go back to Drape’s report:

The no-name jockey asked. The great horse answered. I’ll Have Another reached Bodemeister’s throat latch two strides before the wire. He was by him on the next one.

And just like that we had a chance at a Triple Crown winner.

Three weeks from now you’ll know where to find us: doing whatever we can to find a television set so we can watch the Belmont. And Candice will, no doubt, give me an early leg up on understanding what I’m seeing.

I’ll Have Another indeed!

More to come…

DJB

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