By Terri Rocovich
Like millions of people on Saturday, I watched every minute of the Kentucky Derby coverage. Although I must admit I watched on Saturday evening on my DVR because Saturday for me is a day filled with riding, teaching lessons and Pony Club. The other advantage to not watching it live is that I could skip forward or delete it if anything bad happened. Hence my mixed feelings about having Derby, and Triple Crown fever.
I was what was known as a “racetrack brat” my entire childhood. My father’s avocation and passion for owning and breeding race horses was part of me as well and I eagerly tagged along to the racetrack whenever I could. At one point I dreamed of being a jockey until a growth spurt in high school made that impossible. None the less, I loved nearly everything about the racetrack. The early mornings, the routine, the horses (of course), the promise of each new foal, the excitement of each workout or race; all of it consumed many weekend mornings and most school vacations. While most families document the passing years through posed family portraits, ours was documented through posed winning circle photos.
When the horses were racing at local tracks, nearly every Friday and Saturday my entire family would spend our afternoons or evenings at the races. We would eat at the Turf Club or hang out in our owner’s box watching the races and our horses run. We would be elated when they won and would hopefully look to the next one when they did not. My sisters loved the social side of our racetrack life, but going back track, the management and care of the horses and the breeding and foaling; that was my Dad’s and my thing. It was a passion that we shared until his passing in 1992 and sadly after that we could not afford to keep our racing interests active. But oh the wonderful memories I have.
I also have some sad memories associated with the racing world of trainers and owners with no respect for the horses and who would do anything to win; and of gambling spectators who failed to recognize that these were giving, feeling animals who simply loved to run. On one particularly sad occasion we had a horse racing, named Corkie Woollen, who was the favorite in a high graded stakes race. Corkie bowed a tendon and broke down in the race and people in the stands actually booed as the horse ambulance passed the grandstand driving him back to the barn. Even though Corkie’s injuries were career ending he lived out his days as a beloved pet on our farm, far from the greedy, uncaring gamblers or ignorant booing spectators.
It also seems that racing over the past decade has changed and not all for the better. Although part of me is still a fan, I am having a hard time remaining loyal because of the epidemic of catastrophic injuries plaguing the sport as well as the cruel injustices paid to these magnificent creatures after their careers are over. Several years ago I privately boycotted the sport when the news hit that Ferdinand, an amazing stallion who had won the Belmont Stakes had been sent to the killers after he was no longer useful to his Japanese owners as a breeding stallion. But still I am drawn back when the big races come around. Exactly why, I am not sure. Perhaps I am a delusional romantic who knows how much these horses love to run or perhaps because it keeps me close to memories of my bond with my father. I am not sure.
I was relieved on Saturday that the Derby went off cleanly and without incident. I loved the background stories of Union Rags and Michael Matz’s quest for a derby after the tragic loss of Barbaro, and the story of Bob Baffert surviving a heart attack just 6 weeks prior and racing the colt, Bodemeister, named for his son. And the story of the winner, I’ll Have Another, named by the owner for the love of his wife’s chocolate chip cookies. All of it is better than fiction and the makings of a great novel. But as hundreds of other races go on every week that never reach a TV screen, at what cost to the horses does all of this add up too. Is it all worth it and is it right? I, for one, am not sure. How about you? What are your thoughts?
It was a thrilling race and as always the horses did not disappoint and I do plan to watch the Preakness, but it will be with mixed feelings.