My mother loved to watch sports. Especially golf. She knew all the players, was a member of Arnie’s Army, but only warmed up to Nicklaus when he won a major in his forties, old people cheer on old people. And when we were on the phone today, I told her I was going to watch the Belmont Stakes.
Not that I’m a fan of horse racing. I’ve only been to the track once.
But I’m a fan of dominance. To see those triumph again and again and again. It’s lonely at the top, it’s hard to be king, although as Tom Petty sang when he was channeling Mel Brooks, it’s good too!
But I didn’t want to view all the pomp and circumstance. I just wanted to see the race. To find out whether Justify could capture the Triple Crown. But when I turned on the TV at the appointed hour, I saw the east coast.
We don’t have days like this in Los Angeles. Grey. Cloudy. Threatening rain. Humid as hell. It’s an east coast thing. And watching Belmont Park, I yearned to be there. That’s the conundrum, you leave your past behind, but you never forget it, old girlfriends, old haunts, you want to go back, but it’s better to do so in your mind.
And this is a day when the spotlight shines on horse racing and its minions. Normally, they’re second-class citizens, but today… Justify’s trainer was there in his blue jacket. The grass was green and lush. And the horses…
Were the star attraction.
None seemed as big as Secretariat. Some actually seemed damn small. But they emerged from the paddock and the tension began to build, this was sports.
Sports, irrelevant but everything. Self-contained. With a definitive winner. A metaphor for life, as Bob Costas, the host here, once said. You think you’re over the races and games, you think you don’t care, and then you’re brought right back, it’s in your blood.
And as the horses are wandering to the gate, I’m thinking about the Warriors, how they got cheated two years ago, how they should have won that series, if one of their stars hadn’t been banished from a game. And then they would have won four straight, what an accomplishment that would have been.
And I’m thinking of the last time I watched the Belmont Stakes, when a horse was up for the Triple Crown, he didn’t make it. Because it’s hard to make it. It’s a mighty long road just to be included, to be on the track, to win?
And Justify’s jockey is 52 years old, I’m rooting for him like my mother rooted for Nicklaus.
And I read in the “Times” that he’s on the pole, and this is harder.
And I’ve got nothing on the line, I’m not a betting man, my money means too much to me, and then…
And Justify pulls into the lead. Can he keep it?
This is the longest race, this is the one wherein horses run out of gas.
And Gronkowski is an also-ran, but he’s pulling up, but as they approach the checkered flag…
Justify sustains, he holds on HE WINS!
I was not there, but I saw it. My adrenaline was pumping. I felt I could will Justify on, like my innards were commingled with his. Like we shared the same brain, I was saying, run, run RUN!
Does the horse know he’s won?
That’s what Felice asked, I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
But the feeling that went through Mike Smith the jockey, that was one I was familiar with. It’s uncommon, but when you experience it… A triumph. Based upon hard work, years of practice when no one was paying attention. Sure, the feeling will fade, but for now…it doesn’t even matter that the whole world is watching, because you’re at the center of the universe, you’re at one with God.
You’re a champion.