Tangible Dreams

By Frank Vespe

When Frankie Dettori flyingly dismounted from Raven's Pass last Saturday, it marked, in a sense, the end of a decade-long journey for the colorful jockey. 

It also marked, from my perspective, another link in the chain of interconnectedness that is one of racing's signal charms.

Ten years ago, Dettori had the mount on European invader Swain in the Breeders' Cup Classic, held that year at Churchill Downs.  Turning for home, Dettori had Swain in the perfect spot, and as he steered the bay outside the leaders, it seemed the money was there for the taking.

What happened next, however, has dogged the jock ever since.  The Independent put it this way: "Dettori beat Swain across the track in the Classic with a whipping frenzy."  By the time they hit the wire, Swain was probably about 15 paths outside, closer to the grandstand than the rail, and just about a length behind winner Awesome Again.

It took Dettori another decade to find his way to the winners' circle after a Breeders' Cup Classic, ten long years to recover his good name (at least to American punters) after what Ray Kerrison, in the New York Post, called "the worst race of any jockey in the history of the Cup."

Swain, meanwhile, is enjoying a placid and fruitful life as a stallion at Shadwell Farm in Kentucky, which is where my wife Erin and I saw him just a couple of weeks ago.  Earlier in the year, we'd sent another "family member" to visit with Swain, and The Big Four Oh, our unraced mare, returned in foal. 

Racing is a small and in many ways exceptionally class-conscious world.  Even in handicapping, "class" is considered a powerful tool.  And woe be to the commoner who tries to enter the Saratoga clubhouse boxes.

Yet for all that, the lines between classes are extraordinarily permeable.  A good horse can kick down the doors; all the royal breeding in the world can't save a bad one.  The Green Monkey may have been the most expensive auction purchase ever, but on the racetrack he was simply a lifetime maiden.

More than that, it is the very slippery-ness of the classes that allows inter-mingling on such a grand scale.  Swain, for example, was true horse royalty: regally bred, good-looking, exceptionally successful at the highest levels of the game.  The Big Four Oh, on the other hand, was a commoner in every way: modestly bred (Parker's Storm Cat-Nora Dancer, by Runaway Groom), unraced, and, as a youngster, all lumps and sharp angles.  Their offspring?  We'll see.

It is this sort of injected democratic sensibility that allows the "sport of kings" to capture our imagination.  We at That's Amore Stable haven't run in the best races, but we've had the best jockeys: stars like Dominguez, Velasquez, Garcia, Elliott, Pino.  We haven't spent a lot of money on horses, as these things go.  But we've nevertheless had offspring of Elusive Quality, Distorted Humor, Mr. Greeley, and others.

The interplay works both ways, of course.  Plenty of recent stars - Big Brown, for example, or Funny Cide - didn't exactly leap off the catalog page as stars-in-waiting.  Once they hit the racetrack, however, they ran exactly that way.

It's no surprise that the pursuit of the dream is what animates horse-racing.  After all, the most recent major movie about the game was called "Dreamer."  But dreams, to have power, must begin with some foundation in reality.  It's the day-to-day interaction of "high" and "low" that makes the racing dream tangible, that gives it shape and heft, that allows you to pick it up, turn it over, hold it close.

I used to own a horse named Skeleton Crew, a successful claim of ours, if brief; we owned him for only two starts.  There were stakes performances in his past when we got him.  Kim's Dixie Tune, a horse we own now, spent the early part of his career chasing the likes of Cowboy Cal and Atoned.

Those horses might never get to (or back to) that sort of top-of-the-heap level.  But then again, they might.  It's there on the page, in black-and-white in the company line: Atoned, Arcaro, Kim's Dixie Tune.  Sure, it's a dream, but it's more than a dream, too; it's a realistic (if remote) possibility supported by tangible evidence.

Lava Man, famously, was a claimer-made-great; Funny Cide was a New York-bred gelding who outran the odds.  What inspires racing dreams is not that something like that might happen again, but that it inevitably will happen again.  So we all say, "Why not us?"

In victory, Dettori achieved a vindication of sorts; he'll not have to explain away his ride on Swain again.  He also, in a sense, re-connected Swain to the Classic and in so doing, linked (in a small way) the sport's best and brightest to The Big Four Oh and That's Amore Stable.

As a fan, I'd hoped to see Curlin win.  But in truth, I can't say that I'm unhappy with this outcome.  And, anyway, maybe we can get Dettori for when The Big Four Oh's foal... oh, never mind...


Recent Posts

Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance

Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance RSS Feed

More Blogs