The Extraordinary Endeavor of Being an Ordinary Racehorse

By Jennifer Wirth, of The Saturday Post

On January 1st, an Arkansas-bred filly named Gretl turned three-years-old in her barn at Oaklawn Park. 

She didn’t receive any birthday cakes, fancy cards and fans didn’t line up for a photo outside her stall.  January 1st was simply an ordinary day in her life.

Gretl didn’t seem to mind one bit.  She is in the business of being ordinary. 

Yet, I would soon learn that the business of being ordinary is quite an extraordinary endeavor.

As I walked through the shed row with her Trainer Tim Ice, I asked questions about all of the horses.  I was wondering if any could be potential Triple Crown contenders or win major stakes outings. 

It seemed to me that the value of a racehorse in a Thoroughbred stable was based on their ability to rise to the highest peak in the industry.

I was wrong.

There is something extraordinary in being ordinary.

Gretl poked her head out.

For an “ordinary” horse, she delivered quite a playful greeting.  She stamped her hooves, swooped to kiss at my coat, and when it was impossible to ignore her, she raised her teeth in a silly smile as if she had won something. 

And, in that moment, Gretl had me convinced that she had won an extraordinary race that I failed to watch.

But, I would soon learn that she was simply in the business of being ordinary.  Gretl hadn’t won a stakes race.  She wasn’t pointing toward graded outings.  Instead, she is just focusing on ordinary goals in her career. 

Right now, Gretl’s goal is to simply win her first race.

I thought, “There must be some spectacular goal after her maiden victory?”  In my mind, it seemed to be the point of racing.

I was wrong.

Gretl isn’t focusing on being the next great horse.  She appears to think it is extraordinary to be ordinary. 

She may be right.  Apparently, the business of being ordinary isn’t a small endeavor.  Ice explained, “They aren’t all going to be great horses, but they all have their value and worth.”

Gretl is among the quiet majority of racehorses that give their best and fall short of pinning their star in the constellation of immortal greats. 

But, there is something great about horses like Gretl.  Ice pointed out, “Every horse has their spot where they can win.  Any time you win a race, it’s exciting.  From the claiming horses to the top level.”

With a single winless horse, my definition of “greatness” evolved into something new.  Yes, “greatness” is demonstrated in the champion racehorses and those who excel well beyond our wildest imagination in racing.

Yet, “greatness” is also a quiet endeavor that ordinary racehorses display in their everyday life.  Without fanfare or pageantry, Gretl steps onto the track, runs to her fullest capability and fights for a victory to call her own.

Her victories won’t bring garlands of flowers or adoring fans to her stall.  In the end, she will simply go back to her stable and bask in an extraordinary moment in her ordinary career.

But, the business of being ordinary is extraordinary.  It is the journey of every racehorse to try to tap into their full potential and see where it takes them in the racing world.

It may take them to claiming races or it may lead them to the highest level of racing.

But, wherever it leads, the beauty is in the attempt.  It is getting into the ring without any fanfare or glory.  And, even a quiet win, however small, is a glorious victory.

Gretl taught me to be a fan of the ordinary racehorse.  Racing isn’t just the realm of the ones that garner the spotlight, but also, the horses that spend their career in the shadows of great horses and fight for small moments of victory.

Greatness is present when any horse sets foot on a track and puts in their full effort.

Greatness lives in every victory, no matter how small or big.

Greatness exists whenever a racehorse achieves something extraordinary in their ordinary life.

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