"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Day in History

This is about American Pharaoh and how his win touched my life. But bear with me: I need to tell a story so that you will understand what this all meant to me and why.

A long, long time ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I had just moved to the continental US to Tampa, FL to live with Charles. Almost immediately I found a horse training gig at a big horse rental, breeding and sales operation about 40 miles from where we lived. Within a month I was severely injured by one of the whackjob horses they had there and I was unable to continue riding.

Prior to taking that job, I had applied at a local tack shop only 20 minutes from our apartment at the time, a small local business owned by a feisty Irish woman whom I will call Mary. The store's main employee happened to be the daughter of a film producer Charles had worked closely with (Charles was involved in film before becoming a nurse) and I mentioned this on my job application.

In a strange twist of fate, right around the time I got injured at the training job I received a call from the tack shop. They wanted to interview me.

I got the job and worked there for our remaining time in Tampa. I thought I knew a lot about horses until I started working there and realized that my knowledge was barely scratching the surface! It was a wonderful time in my life. The store owner's daughter, Berna, had a huge farm up in Wesley Chapel where she trained hunter/jumpers and gave lessons and once I had healed from my injury, I was able to get my riding time in with her by exercising horses in exchange for lessons.

My time in that store marked the beginning of another time of my life, the time when I left my family and started figuring out this adulting thing. I met some truly amazing people, several of which I'm still in touch with over 10 years later (hi Karen! :D Yes, there are two Karens in my life: the Tampa one and the Colorado one) and had so many experiences that would change who I was for the better. I wish I had had the blog back then to document some of the stories from that time; there were so many good ones between the store, dealing with both the good and the bad of horse people day in and day out, and the barn. That big beautiful barn with the huge center aisle, the white fences and the covered arena with rubberized footing. It was the first time I blanketed horses at night in the winter, the first time I left the barn after nightfall and watched shooting stars across the sky after turning off the arena lights, the first time I helped a colicking horse, the first time I rode before work in the early mornings, watching the sun rise from a horse's back. It was magical, all of it. I loved all of those people fiercely. It was the first time in my life that I was part of something else like that, something outside of myself, of two families with whom I don't share blood but whom I still love as if I did.

I was the manager of the shipping department at the store. In other words, I was one of three employees if you included the store owner and I discovered that I loved everything that had to do with shipping so I was put in charge of it. It was my favorite thing: I placed orders when we were running low on tack shop essentials; I was the first person to open boxes of new stuff arriving into the store, the first to see said new stuff before anyone else, and I was the one who fulfilled people's online or phone orders and packed up their goods carefully so that they would arrive safely at their destinations. It was like Christmas every day in the best way possible: both the excitement of giving and receiving, all rolled into one.

We carried Breyer horses. They were a huge hit, especially among the adults that collected them. But one of the biggest hits were the Triple Crown ornaments. We had SO many clients that collected them specifically that usually by the time they came into the store around the holidays, most of them were already spoken for! So many of them arrived in our store only to be immediately packed up again by moi to be sent off en route to their new homes.

Seabiscuit Breyer ornament
Mary had the whole collection at home and she told fabulous stories of the Triple Crown winners she had witnessed during her life, of watching them galloping down that homestretch of the Belmont to win.

I remember holding those tiny ornaments in my hands and thinking wistfully, "Not in my lifetime." The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978, a year before I was born. I didn't know that fact until I started working at the store. It's hard to not know the stories of famous racehorses when you've worked almost exclusively with Thoroughbreds for most of your life, but there were some Triple Crown winners that I had somehow not heard of and working at the store filled those gaps in knowledge. Most of it thanks to the Breyer horses and to Mary and her love of the American Thoroughbred.

I figured there would never be another one, you know? Racehorses aren't bred or managed or trained the way they used to be. A lot has improved but a lot is also worse.

So I didn't watch horse races. I never have.

Until last year when Charles and I walked into a Mexican restaurant that was streaming the Belmont live. The Belmont where California Chrome was running, the next possible Triple Crown winner. I had actually forgotten that the race was that day and got goosebumps when looking up at the TV and realizing the coincidence. So we sat at the bar for dinner so I could watch the race. I had been SURE that California Chrome would win, simply because of this spectacular coincidence: the one race I got to watch had to be the one that would make history! I even had the blog post all written up in my head. And then he lost and I was surprised by how upset I was about it. And being involved in endurance, I ended up reading a lot of the literature that came out about why we would probably never see another Triple Crown winner unless the race format was changed.

And then life went on and I forgot about the Triple Crown and whether there would ever be another possible candidate.

Until Karen from Thee Ashke texted me a few weeks ago about American Pharaoh winning the Preakness. "We have another Triple Crown hopeful!" I was not expecting another one so soon!

On Saturday June 6, 2015, I was at the barn having just finished riding Lily when Karen texted me, "Are you watching the race?" I didn't even know at what time it was. I told her we didn't have cable. She said it was on NBC. We don't have an antenna for local channels. She said there was an app; she was going to be watching it while camping. So since I was in civilization and really had no excuse to not watch, I decided to try and see if I could see it on the computer. Our computer with slow internet that doesn't have speakers. The race was only two minutes long. I could spare two minutes of my life to try to see it.

I took my time at the barn picking up and took my time getting settled once home. I finally sat down at the computer to try and see if NBC would stream, right as Liz texted me, "Can you watch the race and send me updates?" She was camping down in VA and didn't have internet access to watch it. I told her I would.

I plugged in my headphones to the computer and NBC actually did stream. The connection was crappy and the images were pixelated but I could see it and hear it with minimal stuttering.

All I knew about American Pharaoh was that he was a bay. This was my first time actually seeing the horse. One of the things that impressed me about him was his build: he reminded me of the old time Thoroughbreds. The ones that used to win this kind of race. Super fit, muscular, confident. He had presence. My eye was drawn to him before I knew it was him.

American Pharaoh

I told Liz so. I just didn't mention the fact that he reminded me of other greats. Liz was rock climbing at the New River Gorge while receiving my updates and reading them out loud to her friends.

Yup, the effects of a great race at their finest! :)

My feed literally crashed right as he crossed the finish line so I wasn't able to see by how much he had really won. He won by 5.5 lengths.

I sat there for a minute, stupefied, my heart racing. I had just seen the first Triple Crown winner of this century. The first one in 37 years.  The first one in my lifetime. Karen and I texted back and forth in giddy excitement: she had been able to see it. And I texted Charles, who isn't a race horse fan in the least, but he knew because they had been watching the race at work at his hospital! And I called my mom in a flurry of fizzy energy, and she was all, "That's wonderful honey." "But-but...he's the first one in 37 years!!" She didn't get it. And I knew at another time in my life, that would have been my reaction too. But it wasn't. It felt like the whole world should have seen it, like the whole world should know.

And that's when I got it, you know? That's when I understood the bright twinkle in Mary's eye whenever she spoke of those great racehorses that she saw cross that finish line, when I understood why so many people collected those ornaments. I thought of the tack shop, of Mary herself, of my lifelong friend Karen whom I met while working there, of Berna and all of the OTTBs she trained into successful jumpers, and it was like a part of my life had just come full circle.

I went into Facebook, expecting to see all of these Triple Crown winner updates, and saw very few. But I had a message from Tampa Karen. She had been watching it too. And Mary and Berna had also been watching it at their own house. She said she wished we had all been together to watch it. I told her that in a way we were. We had all been watching it together, just not in the same room.

Both Karen and I have our pre-orders for the American Pharaoh ornament for when Breyer adds it to the collection. That is one ornament that I want to have!

I later watched a high definition video of the race and was able to see that the big bay colt actually ran most of that race with his ears pricked.

This is terribly pixelated but you can see his ears!
He was having the time of his life, galloping down that race track ahead of all of the other horses, his head nodding forward joyously with each stride. His ears don't flatten until he comes into the final homestretch, when his gallop extends into huge earth-engulfing strides. The second he crosses the finish line his ears flick forwards again, "I won!"

You can also see the video here.

And now I too get to be one of those people that can say, "I remember watching American Pharaoh win the Triple Crown. It was a beautiful summer day in June of 2015..."

*Special thanks to Karen for insisting that I watch the race and to Liz for asking for updates <3!


  1. <3 <3 I LOVED the updates. Dave was fortunately on top rope so I didn't have to have every iota of my attention on him; every time a message arrived I swiped to read it while still belaying him. He thought it was kind of silly that I couldn't just read what happened afterward, but it was so much more fun to get all caught up in it as your messages came through. I think he understood afterwards. ;-) We did watch the race from my phone in the campground after we'd finished climbing. He stopped what he was doing to watch, too. SO CRAZY. So awesome. THANK YOU.

    What do I need to do to get on the preorder list for an ornament?!

    1. You're very welcome!! Sending you updates made it even more awesome!

      I'll ask about the preorder list for the ornament. I think she just needs your name and phone number, which I can give her. They're only about $15. :)

  2. so i apparently missed this post when you published it - thanks for mentioning it in your comment! what a lovely story and memory - it's pretty special how the triple crown history and lore is so closely intertwined with your own story. and even better that you got to experience the race with so many close friends, even if you weren't all in the same room!

    i've always hoped to see a winner and really thought Barbaro would be the one. of course that whole story was so heart breaking i really didn't get reinvested again (and actually missed this year's race entirely by a ridiculous oversight). i wondered, like you said, if it was even possible. but how thrilling to have a winner! :D

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Emma! :D The whole thing with Barbaro happened while I was working at the tack shop. It was such a horrible thing...that poor horse!

      AP's win was truly amazing! I never thought I'd get to see a Triple Crown winner..I really thought it would never happen again! It is indeed so very thrilling!