'Breaking' in a New Fan

Sometimes I like to devote this space to the racing fans who pour so much passion into the sport or a particular horse. With the Belmont Stakes coming up, there will be a mother and her young daughter who will be cheering wildly for Suddenbreakingnews even though they’ve never seen him in the flesh and have no personal connection to him.

It was the thrill he gave them and a name in his pedigree that ignited this love affair with a horse who came from Remington Park and then Oaklawn Park, far from their home in Pennsylvania, to become a leading contender on the Triple Crown trail.

There is no blueprint for falling in love with anyone or anything; in this case a racehorse. Each person who is enamored with the Sport of Kings has his own story and reasons why he or she fell in love with a particular horse.

It could have been their striking beauty or being awestruck by their power and grace. It could have been their breeding, which evoked special images and moments from the past. It could have been cashing a huge ticket on a horse that had you leaping up and down in unbridled joy. It could even be their name.

When that horse is your first equine love, you never forget him or her, regardless of how old you were at the time.

In my case, I was 20 years old when I fell in love with Damascus for the simple and unexciting reason that the person who introduced me to the sport was in love with him. As a complete novice, I was extremely impressionable and jumped on the bandwagon, and it was Damascus who would light the beacon that guided me into this wondrous new world.

Earlier this year, 6-year-old Eva Lytle and her mother, Sherri, were watching the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and when they saw this bay streak flying down the stretch, passing one horse after another and drawing away to a 2 3/4-length victory, a new love affair was born.

From that day on, Suddenbreakingnews became, in Eva’s eyes, “The best racehorse in the world.” In the past, Eva and her mother, both passionate  racing fans and horse lovers, would sometimes take a liking to different Derby horses; but not this year. Not only was a new love affair born, but a special bond shared by mother and daughter.

As much as they were thrilled by Suddenbreakingnews’ explosive stretch run from last of 14 horses to first, it was when Sherri looked up the horse’s pedigree and saw that his broodmare sire was her beloved Afleet Alex that she became hooked and kept learning more and more about the horse. The more stories she would tell Eva about Suddenbreakingnews the more she became hooked as well.

“Eva told me, ‘That horse is amazing…Wow, he just passed all those horses.’” Sherri said. “I broke down in tears when she said that, because it brought back a great memory of one of my all-time favorite racehorses, Afleet Alex. I remember the call of his Belmont: ‘He passed the Derby winner like he was standing still!’ It broke my heart that Afleet Alex didn't win the Triple Crown. I so wanted him to, as we live in Pennsylvania which is where his connections live. Carol  Zacney (owner Chuck Zacney's wife) and I have become good friends and I’m actually administrator of Afleet Alex’s Facebook page and I got to visit him back in 2012 when I went to the Kentucky Derby.

“I wrote to the stallion manager at Gainesway Farm at least once a month telling him how much I loved Alex and that if I ever made it to Kentucky, I hoped to come see him. Well, it worked out because when I did go to Kentucky, he gave me specific instructions on a time to visit Alex and he permitted it, even though it was breeding season, and he had me show up in between breeding times. But if I had been late I would not have been able to see him. So I made sure I got there two hours early and I sat in the parking lot and waited to go in at the exact time he told me to show up.

“I have been waiting for another really good horse to make it back on the Triple Crown trail with Alex in his bloodlines. You don't know how sad I was that Texas Red’s Triple Crown hopes did not work out last year. But I have followed every horse that was related to Alex on the Derby trail. I wanted Eva, who was born in 2009, to be named Alex, after Afleet Alex, but my family said no because we have two ‘L’s in our last name and it would have been too many. Eva and I have cheered Suddenbreakingnews on since the Southwest Stakes. Eva doesn’t really know or understand much about pedigrees; for her it’s all about visually impressive runs and their names and sometimes their stories, too.”

As time went on, Sherri learned more and more about Suddenbreakingnews and how his trainer, Donnie Von Hemel, still cares for his only Kentucky Derby starter, the 30-year-old Clever Trevor, on his farm. That endeared the horse to her even more.

Since the Southwest Stakes, Eva has made three videos, before the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and Kentucky Derby, wishing Suddenbreakingnews good luck. The last video appeared on the “Lady and the Track” website’s fan montage.

When they attended this year’s Preakness, Eva was disappointed she would not get to see Suddenbreakingnews. She had been looking forward to seeing him in person. “We got to see almost all of the Preakness horses up close in the morning, and even saw Nyquist after his bath back at the barn,” Sherri said. “But we both missed Suddenbreakingnews’ presence that day.”

While attending “Sunrise at Old Hilltop” the morning of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, there was a large statue of a white horse adorned with black and yellow blinkers and saddlecloth, on which was written the number “1” and “The People’s Horse.” Fans in attendance, especially kids, were asked to take a marker and write on the horse the name they would give it if they could name a horse.

“When Eva walked up to that horse, they told her it could be any name that she would like to name a racehorse, and that she could even write her own name if she wanted to name a racehorse that,” Sherri said. “Eva knows other horses’ names like California Chrome and Beholder, but she wrote in her kindergarten kid writing, ‘Sundenbakingnos.’ At first, when I saw ‘Sund,’ I thought she was writing Sunday Silence, who she has heard me mention. When they interviewed her on camera and asked her what the name was, she said, ‘Suddenbreakingnews.’”

That is quite a mouthful for anyone, never mind a 6-year-old who just recently graduated kindergarten.

Now, Sherri and Eva eagerly await the Belmont Stakes. But this time, there will be no pre-race videos.

“She loves making these videos for Suddenbreakingnews,” Sherri said, “but I told her this time no video before the race; only if he wins the Belmont, then she can make a congratulatory video.

“His trainer is a good guy and I hope good karma is heading their way, and my biggest hope is that he passes them all in the stretch, just like his broodmare sire did back in 2005. No, he won't be passing the Derby winner like he was standing still, but maybe all the ones that do enter the race. The thing is, we love this gutsy horse so much now and his story, too. No matter what happens, we will still love him, win or not.”

As I mentioned earlier, every love affair between a person, regardless of their age, and a horse has its own special meaning. And because of that, every race, every winner, and every loser stirs someone’s emotions, whether through tears of joy or sorrow or just the thrill of witnessing the courage of one’s favorite horse. And that horse doesn’t have to be American Pharoah or California Chrome or Beholder.

Whether it is Suddenbreakingnews charging down the Belmont stretch on June 11 or some other horse, it will be a memorable moment for someone. Win or lose, by the time the summer is over, and the Belmont, Haskell, and Travers have been run, you can bet there will be one fan with plenty of stories to tell her first grade class next fall.

Eva's fun morning at Pimlico even without Suddenbreakingnews

Eva writes her favorite horse's name down


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