A Talk in the Park - By Lenny Shulman

It is a truism that New Yorkers don’t go to the top of the Empire State Building; residents of Washington, D.C., don’t visit the White House; and Philadelphians rarely check out the Liberty Bell.

Amanda Duckworth’s article on the 40th anniversary of the Kentucky Horse Park documents that the KHP is seeking to increase visits from citizens of the surrounding Bluegrass, who would do well to take advantage of this homage to the horse in their neighborhood.

My reintroduction to horse racing (following teen years spent at Roosevelt Raceway betting trotters) was inspired by listening to stories spun by my friend Hot Tub Johnny West as he recounted his youthful Saturdays spent at Belmont Park in the golden ’70s.

In 1996 the occasion arose for Johnny and me to meet in Kentucky, halfway between his Brooklyn home and mine in Los Angeles. Here we visited stars such as Affirmed and Unbridled, Mr. Prospector and A.P. Indy. But the highlight of the trip was our day spent with the great Forego at the Horse Park.

He was Johnny’s favorite back at Belmont, running on bad legs yet running his healthier and younger foes into the ground over Big Sandy. Imagine a charismatic horse so gifted he won championships as top sprinter and best handicap horse in the same season.

Johnny knew all of the gelding’s tendencies and showed up at the Horse Park with enough bananas to feed the primate population of a zoo for weeks. While waiting for the official show and video tribute to Forego and John Henry to begin, we surreptitiously fed Forego bananas over his stall grating, talking him up like Drew “Bundini” Brown urging on Muhammad Ali in his corner between rounds. He nodded his majestic head at us, and we felt his gaze—that incredible eye of his—upon us.

Long after the show and the departure of the other visitors, Johnny and I remained outside his stall, continuing our conversation and feeding. The late Cathy Roby, who for many years ran the KHP’s Hall of Champions barn, took mercy on us and brought Forego out so that we could take photos of, and with, him. She also let us hold him ourselves while a staffer snapped pictures of us, and generously allowed us plenty of time outside the barn with him, as more bananas were offered along with pats and kisses.

Forego with Hot Tub Johnny West
Forego with Hot Tub Johnny West - Courtesy Lenny Shulman

Cathy presented Johnny with a lock of Forego’s mane, which I’m sure resides in a place of honor. When Cathy left after turning Forego out for the evening, we remained.

In the gathering dusk he gave us one last treat, briefly running the paddock on his 26-year-old legs as if it were two decades earlier and we were all at Belmont Park celebrating his greatness once again.

On subsequent trips to the Horse Park, I can’t stand next to Forego’s grave outside the Hall of Champions without my eyes turning into waterworks, remembering one of the best days of my life while being lifted by the spirit of the Thoroughbred.

May many others, from near and far, discover such joys at the Kentucky Horse Park.

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