On a wall of my living room, hanging next to his halter, is a picture I took of A.P. Indy in the mid-1990s at Lane’s End Farm. He is full of himself, ears straight up, chin resting on the top rail of his paddock fence, nose placed just above his nameplate. He looks toward the camera out of the left corner of his eye, mugging for it. On a fence line that encloses acres, what are the chances of him placing his nose over a 12-inch nameplate?
The great ones know who they are. Penny Chenery talked of how Secretariat never stood still in his paddock while visitors watched. He stormed around the field, or picked up a stick, threw it in the air, and played catch. I witnessed Forego fly around his paddock at the Kentucky Horse Park at age 26 putting on a show for a couple of diehard fans; Affirmed at Jonabell come out and pose for photographs without having to be asked; and Seattle Slew at Three Chimneys being Seattle Slew. Even a cursory glance his way and you knew you were in the presence of royalty.
Great horsemen such as Vincent O’Brien were said to spend a half-hour at the auction barns just studying horses at their stall gate, looking for the self-awareness that indicated something out of the ordinary.
“He was a very intelligent horse that just took everything in,” said Eddie Delahoussaye, the regular pilot of A.P. Indy. “I’ve always said I was just a passenger. And that’s how the great horses are: Stay out of their way and let them perform, and they’re gonna take you home.”
So, no, it isn’t anthropomorphism when you believe a special horse has a heightened sense of his surroundings and an enhanced ability to relate to humans. Besides, my bond with A.P. Indy was very one-sided in the other direction. I got far more from him than he ever wanted from me.
He was my inspiration to give horse racing another chance after it had laid dormant in my consciousness for 20 years. Being able to follow a racehorse through a magical year of triumph and bitter disappointment; victories, losses, and injury. And rediscovering a love for a game and for animals that would shape the next 20 years of my life. Because of one horse with a catchy name and an eye-catching way of running, his head down low to the ground, and with enough talent to rise to the top, but not so much that he ever ceased to appear vulnerable.
In return, I couldn’t offer much. A semi-annual visit with offers of carrots or peppermints. An encouraging call out to him: “Hey, Champ.” He didn’t know me.
Frequently he would be in his stall, staring out his back window and giving me nothing but a view of his rear end. Other times, he would allow me to feed him through his stall grill, like he did for hundreds of others. Out in his paddock, he would amble over to the fence if I’d made enough of a racket unwrapping peppermints and humor me by accepting my bribe in exchange for spending some time with me. A month before he left, I stopped my car outside his paddock, made a lot of noise with the mint wrappers, and couldn’t get him to stop as he determinedly walked the fence line as if searching for something greater than I could see.
He wasn’t the greatest racehorse that lived, nor the greatest sire ever. But he was damn close enough to be among them. A Horse of the Year and a multiple-year leading sire, top broodmare sire, and a sire of sires. He made Lane’s End what it is today.
“You breed to the best and hope for the best,” said Eddie D. “And the rare times when it happens, that’s the ultimate.”
He was a breed-changer and, beyond that, a game-changer for the many lives he touched. And he seemed to know it.