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"Immortality has been realized once the roar of the crowd has been united."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reflection: Twelve Years of Horses and Humanity


It was not a racing year that was much unlike any other. Monarchos was far from the betting choice back in May at Churchill Downs, but nevertheless, he would unseat the heavy favorite and find his way into the winner's circle, where he was showered with roses. The public remained loyal to their big gun from the big barn, though, and they were handsomely rewarded as Point Given, piloted by jockey Gary Stevens, went on to capture both the 2001 Preakness and Belmont Stakes. It was a scenario that had been seen before, and certainly one that would be played out again. The underdog had won the battle, but the king had gone on to win the war. As the allure of the three-year-old thoroughbred campaign faded from the headlines, fans were eagerly anticipating the Breeders' Cup, scheduled for late October at Belmont Park in New York.

Then, on the eleventh day of September in 2001, the collective heart of a great nation would be tested like it never had before. Life was no longer about racing, sport, or competition. It was about survival, and the welfare of our fellow man and woman. It is not necessary to recount the devastation that took place that fateful Tuesday morning. Each of us carries a solemn remembrance deep inside for just that. It can be said, however, that from tragedies are born miracles, and the miracles that arose from the ashes of that day were never ending. Ordinary citizens became extraordinary heroes. As women displayed their resiliency and bravery, men shared their unique gift of compassion. Our youth took on very adult responsibilities, and our prejudices once reserved for others were quickly dismissed. 

It was a day that changed our country forever, yet it was also a day of great awakening. For the first time in many years, America was one, speaking with one voice, and feeling with one heart. We not only cared for family and friends, but also for the brothers and sisters clear across the country that we had never met. American flags began to fly in cities all across the land, and the sights and sounds of hope soon began to resonate throughout our communities. Our wounds were deep, yet America was determined to press on with great pride. We were a nation that knew no other way.

As October arrived, the sporting world was still mourning right alongside the rest of the country. Competition resumed, but not without the heartfelt tributes that quickly became an integral part of every game, match, or race that took place. It was decided that the 18th running of the Breeders' Cup would not be cancelled or delayed, and it was appropriately dedicated to the firefighters and police officers who had lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks.

One year earlier, Giant's Causeway, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Lemon Drop Kid squared off in the Breeders' Cup Classic, yet it was an unlikely three-year-old named Tiznow that would triumph over that field. The dark brown colt, sired by Cee's Tizzy, was welcomed back to Belmont Park in 2001 to defend his title. It was a most daunting challenge, though. Not only had a horse never been a repeat winner of the Classic, no horse had ever won the race twice. Challengers included the likes of such accomplished thoroughbreds as Sakhee, Aptitude, Galileo, and Macho Uno. In the end, it was Tiznow that would once again be be victorious in the long drive to the wire, this time edging out Sakhee. It was the story that was meant to be written. The king of the Classic had returned and had gone on to win the war. He was the public's hope that became America's champion. He was a horse that knew no other way.

Looking back some twelve years later, little has changed. The Kentucky Derby still offers its updated version of heavy favorites and wild long shots. Gary Stevens continues to weave spells and find ways to win Triple Crown races, and America is as united a country today as it was back in September of 2001. This harmony is unfortunately forgotten from time to time, but in the face of extreme adversity, we are continually reminded that falling is not an option, for united as a nation we will always stand.

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The author is a horse racing enthusiast determined to offer a unique vision of the sport's most paramount stories.