A reading from Rascals and Racehorses
"Four things greater than all things are-Women and Horses and Power and War."
--Rudyard Kipling, "Ballad of the King's Jest"
Not noted primarily for being a racing enthusiast, old Rudyard nevertheless understood that the horse ranked right in there with three other supremely powerful motivators when it came to rocking the very soul of mankind.
Like Women and Power and War, Horses-and particularly racehorses-have always had the ability to stretch to precarious tautness the nerve strings of human beings. And horses-like the other three topics-have beckoned to and enslaved the world of supremely colorful, charismatic human beings.
God only knows what the common ingredients are that cause Queen Elizabeth II, the Aga Khan, Sheikh Mohammed, Reba McEntire, Paul Mellon, Burt Bacharach, Gary Player, on down to Suzie Glutz and Joe Schmo to be engrossed with the capability of a large, four-legged animal to get from Point A to Point B sooner than some other large, four-legged animals.
What could those factors be? I don't really know. But I do believe this: When a person owns a horse, breeds a horse, works around a horse, bets on a horse…or for any reason just pulls for a horse, that beautiful, intriguing animal becomes an extension of one's own persona. And it makes a successful shot to the moon seem possible! It is Hope-always a wonderful commodity.
It is getting ahead of the rest of the world, whether you need to or not. This often foolish quest has always driven mankind: the lottery, the Irish Sweepstakes, unexpected inheritance, hidden treasure…the ultimate, gut-busting, magnificent, thumb-your-nose-at-the-rest-of-the-world score. The racehorse is the ideal conveyance for this deeply intrinsic dream. The racehorse affords you-no matter how glamorous or drab your life may be-the opportunity to strike a mighty blow for the soul.
Edwin Pope, sports editor for the Miami Herald, once asked me to explain the essence of owning a racehorse. A tall order!
Trying to be succinct, I said it was like being clad in a tuxedo and walking into a biker's bar teeming with Hell's Angels. But you've got a pit bulldog on a leash!
Several years ago, my wife Anne and I were killing time in our box at Saratoga as a $35,000 claiming race was about to be run. It was a very modest event by Saratoga standards, and since I am an infrequent bettor, definitely of minor interest to me.
Several minutes before the horses loaded in the gate for the mile and one-sixteenth race, three men rushed into the adjacent, empty box. It was not their box; they were just taking advantage of a spot from which to watch a race in which they obviously had particular interest. They were pleasant looking, middle-aged fellows, dressed casually, and a couple of them were drinking beer. But there was an intensity about them that indicated they were on a mission.
One of them muttered as the horses approached the gate, "All right, Edgar, now don't screw it up!"
The situation aroused my interest. My detective instinct told me they had a horse in the race, and Edgar Prado must be the jockey. I looked on the program and deduced that the "seven horse" was theirs. She was a six-year-old gray mare, owned by the "Jersey Boys Stable." A quick look at the Racing Form told me that Polar Princess was one of those honest, hard-knocking, old campaigners that didn't have a lot of talent but consistently tried like hell. She was 12 to 1 on the tote board.
The boys remained standing in the box (often an easy tip-off to ownership in an upcoming race!) as the horses loaded in front of the stands thirty yards down to our left.
The break came, and as they went through the first turn, the gray Polar Princess was tucked in about eighth in the full field. She was nine lengths from the lead.
The gray-haired man in the windbreaker and floppy golf hat standing nearest us had his glasses trained on the mare, and he murmured, "That's the way, Momma!"
Down the backstretch the horse went in that same order. "Come on, Momma!" I heard him say. Now I'm getting wrapped up in this race!
Into the far turns now, and "Momma" is starting to pick it up a little. She's six lengths out of it, Edgar has her in the clear, and she's got running on her mind!
They're at the eighth pole now, and this gray mare is driving! She's three lengths out of it and closing like a freight train.
They're all yelling now. "Come on, Momma!!"
At the sixteenth pole this horse is head for the lead, and she's going to get there!
At this point a blood-curdling scream: "Goddamn, Momma! One time for the boys!"
One time for the boys. That's what it's all about.
This is Cot Campbell and this is my view.