Why You Should Buy Your Daughter a Horse* (*But Only If She Loves Them)

Sometimes horse shows look like this.

A lot of my friends have kids. Specifically, I have a lot of friends with daughters. Some of those daughters show promising signs of horse craziness, a mental illness I encourage wholeheartedly. As someone who rode before she walked, I’d like to explain to my parent friends why they should stop complaining about the cost of horses and embrace the path of the pony.

Your daughter will learn to be assertive. Horses weigh in the ballpark of 1,000 pounds. Whether you’re leading the horse, picking up its hoof, or jumping a cross country obstacle, you have to be the leader. If you fail to lead, the horse won’t follow.

Your daughter will develop a work ethic. Horses require a tremendous amount of time and effort. You can participate in horses by simply showing up, taking a riding lesson, and leaving. This is a crap way of doing horses. Get your daughter into a barn where she’ll clean stalls, sweep aisles, and wash buckets. She will come to understand the satisfaction that comes with getting her hands dirty.

Your daughter will learn how to cope with trauma. Horses hurt themselves continually. Safest paddock in the world and horses will still find a way to cut themselves. Your daughter will get used to seeing blood and injuries and she’ll learn how to treat those injuries. Horses freak out, sometimes for no apparent reason. Half a ton of freak out results in an adrenaline rush for all involved. Horses hurt people, including your daughter. She will learn what pain is and how to cope with it. This is a good thing. If your daughter spends fifteen years in horses, she will bring Navy Seal Team 6 level inner calm and confidence to the direst of situations.

Your daughter will develop humility. So much can go wrong dealing with horses, especially at a horse show. Competing horses offers an almost endless array of humbling experiences. Your horse will humble you, your competition will humble you, injustice will humble you, but most importantly, your own weaknesses will humble you. Your daughter will come face to face with her impatience, anger, pride, and envy. Horses force you to deal with the reality that the world is a deeply imperfect place and that you are a deeply imperfect person.

And sometimes horse shows look like this.

Your daughter will learn how to be tough. For example, a typical horse show requires waking three hours before dawn and a mini-road trip before launching into twelve hours of heat, dust, and exertion, all the while coping with anxieties, hopes, and expectations. (Sometimes you deal with rain and mud instead of heat and dust.) Invariably, something will go wrong and your daughter will be forced to deal with adversity. Stamina and fortitude are required. Luckily, these are skills that can be developed. They are worth developing.

Your daughter will know what it means to earn a victory. Even the most naturally athletic rider in the world on the best trained lesson pony has to put in some work before effort is rewarded. There are very few short cuts when it comes to horses. Money can buy great horses, but even great horses don’t ride themselves. Putting all the  pieces of the puzzle together and feeling the power of that – the power of success, especially success earned through grit – is a great thing to teach your daughter.

Your daughter will know what it is to be responsible for another life. Horses require care taking. So do dogs and cats and birds. But horses REALLY require care taking. When a kid who loves horses gets to have a horse of her own, there is no greater thing in the world to that child. It is a sacred and solemn oath she makes to that horse, to love it and care for it and tend to its needs. She learns to be a protector, an advocate. She will put the needs of her horse before her own. She will be exhausted, covered in sweat and dust and filth, dehydrated and hungry, but she will not feel any of that – not until her horse is bathed and watered and fed. Only then will she realize her own state. She will experience true selflessness.

Your daughter will grow rhino skin. Horse trainers are notoriously tough coaches. I do not advocate leaving your child to the wolves. If your trainer is too hard on your kid, move on. But if she stays with horses for any length of time, she will have clinicians that are certifiably insane. She’ll run into judges who dislike her without apparent cause. Even in the best case scenario, she’ll have lessons where she is continually critiqued. Cheered on, too, but also critiqued. She will learn how to take notes and not have it hurt her feelings. She will learn how to apply a note. She will learn when to ignore a note and trust her own gut. She will learn how to better herself with the help of others without losing her own unique identity.

She will learn a healthy perfectionism. The best rider in the world still has skills they can improve. There is no perfect in horses. There is always something new to achieve, new to work on. There is a wonderful addiction to improvement that happens, and this process of learning, achieving, and learning anew is something she will bring to other areas of her life. Better yet, your daughter will learn that hard work does pay off. The greatest rides of my life are some of my most magical memories. In short, she will learn to embrace the challenge of excellence.

Finally, if your daughter truly loves horses, and you get her a horse, and encourage her to compete, she will not get pregnant or wind up addicted to something before age 18. I am giving you my personal guarantee on this. This magic formula doesn’t work if she doesn’t really love horses. Plenty of kids like horses well enough, and might dabble in them some. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON DABBLING. Riding lessons are fine and good, horse camp, too. But seriously, horses are EXPENSIVE. Do not go all in unless your kid is all in. But for the driven, truly horse addicted girl, a life in horses = no pregnancy, no addictions prior to age 18. Guaranteed. Also, all the above mentioned benefits. Well worth your investment, my friends.

Helen and a Dream Come True

Hey girl. Did you know that Disney World has multiple spas? How much is a massage? Girl, that massage costs exactly what you're worth. A million dollars.

I know a girl named Helen. I almost called her a “little girl” but that’s not right. Technically, she’s little, on account of only being five years old, but she’s not little. She’s tall for five, but that’s not I what I mean. Helen is a force. When she was very small indeed, she was sometimes referred to as “A Beast.” It’s the kind of nickname society recoils at for little girls. Little girls shouldn’t be “beasts.” But I think it was an awesome nickname, and that it’s pretty cool to be a beast, to be a force to be reckoned with.

The first time I ever saw Helen was at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia. (I also have another “first” memory of Helen by the Hampton Inn in Charleston, SC. Memory is malleable. I don’t know which one actually came first.) In any case, at the zoo I was struck by how much Helen looked like me. I don’t think I look like BOTASTIC (Helen’s dad) or her mother Debbie, but somehow their genetics came together to form my own personal mini-me. It was weird. It remains weird. Although the older she gets, the more she looks like a Crader and less like an Adams that somehow wandered away from the flock and found herself a new family.

Last winter, I had a conversation with my friend Camilo about dreams. Long story short on that, when my friend Camilo asked me about my dreams, I was like, UH OH I DON’T KNOW IF I HAVE ANY. THAT’S NOT GOOD IS IT.

Last week, my mini-me Helen lived a dream I’d long forgotten about. She got to go on a surprise trip to Disney World.

Now, I have a very complicated relationship with Disney World. Mickey Mouse is an abusive boyfriend, without a doubt. He spends all your money in the most ludicrous ways possible, he beats you up, exhausts you, and by the end of the relationship, you’re like, “I am leaving you and I am never coming back.” But then a couple years go by, and you start remembering the good times. You’re like, “Boy, that roller coaster that goes backward was a lot of fun. I like roller coasters. That restaurant that makes it look like you’re next to a Mexican volcano is pretty cool. I liked that restaurant.” And then, before you know it, you’re right back in Mickey’s arms. He’s vaguely happy to see you. He knew you’d be back – they ALL come back.

Despite – or maybe because of – my tempestuous love affair with the mouse, I once upon a time had a dream. A dream that somebody would book a trip to Disney World. And they’d do all the work and planning and I wouldn’t know anything about it, and then all of a sudden, that somebody would be like, “Guess what? We’re about to get on a plane and fly to Disney World!” And I’d be like, “WHAT? THAT’S AMAZING! MY DREAM HAS COME TRUE!”

Here’s the real key to the above dream. They’d do all the work. The sentence, “Guess what? We’re about to…” could have innumerable endings. “Get in the car and drive to the mountains!” “Get in the car and go to dinner and a movie!” “Go on a walk with Tom and Shenanigans!”

I have a good friend named Brenden Kendall. He’s a professor of communications. One of my favorite things about talking to Brenden is that he teaches me the basics of being a human being. For example, that anger is an emotion of attachment. Neat fact! Not long ago, BK wound up educating me about the hallmarks of the breakdown of a relationship. It was kind of like looking at flashcards about my marriage. The one that stuck out the most was separating into two isolated, independent entities. When things started to go awry with my marriage – not that I even knew that’s what it was at the time – I looked at my situation and resolved to do things by myself and find joy in that way. Which I did. I walked my dogs by myself, I went to dinner and a movie with Darren, I planned trips and took them. And I was happy. Or at least, happy-ish.

Hey girl. I was upset to hear the news that your Disney World vacation topped five thousand dollars. Even to me this seems unreasonable. Let me make it up to you with another Disney World vacation. This time it'll be 30% off. Why the great savings? Because I love you, girl.

But what I really wanted was for somebody to surprise me. I really like surprises. And it’d be really, really nice if one day, somebody did all the work.

Not that my life has been wholly devoid of surprises. My 30th birthday party was a bummer. I was really hoping for a surprise. Didn’t happen. So the next year, I resolved to throw myself the most amazing 31st birthday party ever. The theme was Twisted Disney and it was an AWESOME party. Axel came into town, the poker girls were there, Mary Tannery did decorations, and my mother-in-law Alice was dressed as Maleficent and made a ton of snacks over a hot oven, which was ridiculously nice of her. There were so many great things about that party. And then there was a knock on the door. Everybody had already arrived, so I couldn’t figure out who it could be. As it turns out, it was Brianna and Dave and Kendra, who’d flown in from Seattle. It was so surreal and cool and it stands out as the greatest surprise gift of my life. Brianna, dressed magnificently as Mary Pill Poppins, won the costume contest.

I would like to hasten to add something. I’ve never read the book about love languages, but I gather that everybody has ways they like to express and receive love. I feel like all of the above could be interpreted as, you know, critical of my ex-husband. And I’m not saying it is’t fair to criticize him about some things, but all the same I’d like to add that Evan is an amazing gift giver. Dude can find the perfect gift for anybody. He continues to buy me absolutely perfect gifts on the reg. I have an incredible collection of t-shirts, for example. The most recent one being Optimus Prime done in the style of the famous Shepard Fairey poster of Obama that says, “Change – Into a Truck.” I mean, that’s world class gift giving right there. But sometimes a world class gift giver winds up married to somebody who is really into surprise adventures. Such is life.

Anyway.

I am exceedingly glad that my mini-me Helen got to experience a dream come true. I know she loved her trip to Disney World. What five year old wouldn’t? Happiest place on earth. Until you get the check, and then you’re like, THAT COCOA WAS FIFTEEN DOLLARS? But all the way up until that moment, happiest place on earth.

A Killer Named Tom

The selfie Tom sent me. I was sitting in the airport when I got this and I jumped. I JUMPED, YOU GUYS. And that's the character I wrote! And the man I know! Still scared me.

In 2010, I wrote a blog post called A Killer Named Skinny. Long story short, my first novel, Truth Be Told, featured a serial killer named Paul. I’d written Paul mostly out of the ether, only very vaguely based on a couple of people I knew. In terms of voice, appearance, etc. he was created out of whole cloth. When my friend Axel Gimenez and I went to film a book trailer for that novel, my friend Dan Dinger introduced me to his buddy Drue Yates, aka Skinny. It was a profoundly bizarre experience – much like a Stephen King novel, it felt as though the author had given life to the creation. Skinny WAS Paul. Voice, appearance, charming personality – the whole bit. It FREAKED ME OUT, YOU GUYS. Ultimately, Skinny became a dear friend of mine, and to my knowledge, he’s never murdered anybody.

Fast forward to January 2013. I’d written my third novel, Ruthless, and was in the process of my first revision. Only, it wasn’t so much a revision as it was an addition. I was adding on to the antagonist, dubbed Wolfman by the protagonist. Getting to the bottom of Wolfman’s psychology was an arduous process, to put it mildly. At the end of January, I started doing stand-up comedy. I began with an open mic in Greenville, SC. A group of guys who called themselves No Expectations Comedy ran the show. Charlie Grey was immediately welcoming, as was Michael Robinette and Craig Holcombe. Jason Farr was polite. And then there was Tom Emmons.

Tom Emmons was not warm or welcoming or polite. He was the opposite of all of those things. In fact, my first reaction to Tom Emmons was precisely the same as my first reaction to Peter Exline.  Which, in retrospect, made perfect sense, because I know of few people who are more similar than Tom and Peter. Wildly different in some ways, but remarkably similar at the core. However, where I warmed up to Peter almost immediately, I decided to steer clear of Tom indefinitely. Especially because, much like Skinny, Tom FREAKED ME OUT. Why? Because he WAS Wolfman. I couldn’t believe it had happened twice, but it had. Tom was so eerily akin to Wolfman, I wanted to verify that he had existed prior to my writing of Ruthless.

So, I wound up spending two and a half months staring at Tom and thinking, “I want to make my book into an independent feature film and have THAT guy star in it.” I had never had a conversation with him, but I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he could play the role magnificently. Eventually, Tom and I became friends, and he became my stand-up comedy mentor. (Sort of. I think at this point he’s given up hope I’ll ever write a punchline.) Around that time, I’d made my additions to Ruthless but really no revisions of any significance. I didn’t know where to go with the novel from there and abandoned it. When Tom learned I was a writer, he asked to read what I was working on. By that point, Ruthless had been abandoned for at least a couple of months, but I sent it to him, thinking it wasn’t likely he’d much care for it.

He loved it. You want to know how I knew he loved it? In one reading, he’d memorized all of Wolfman’s dialogue and called me IN CHARACTER.

Which I thought was the greatest thing ever. This is why Tom and I are friends. Because I write creepy things and then Tom goes and makes them creepier, and I’m like, “Dude, I am wicked impressed right now. I thought that was at maximum creepy, but you really bumped it up a notch.”

I asked him what I should change and he encouraged me to go ahead and send it out to agents. So, I did.

The interior of Wolfman's cabin and the other pic Tom sent me while I was stuck in the airport.

And then came a long wait. I thought about making a book trailer again and talked to my filmmaker friend Jeff Martell about it. I mentioned Tom, who Jeff knew as a stand-up comic. He said that he could see it, and that we’d just know that Tom would need some takes to nail it, given he was a comic, not an actor. I was like, “No, dude. You don’t understand. He IS Wolfman.” (In case you’re wondering, I do say “dude” just as frequently as you’d imagine, given this blog post.)

Tom and Jeff and I wound up working on another project altogether, one oriented in the comedy world, and the briefly mentioned book trailer never materialized.

Time passed, I got an agent, the super awesome Mandy Hubbard, and she promptly sold it to Simon & Schuster. Months went by and it came time to start promoting Ruthless. And then boom – it occurred to me – WE COULD STILL DO THE BOOK TRAILER! The first time around, I used my book trailer to land an agent. This time around, I could use it for the purpose God intended – to sell books! How exciting! I got permission from Simon & Schuster to film my own book trailer, cast my niece Alyssa Duwe as Ruth, called Jeff, who then recruited John-Paul Newtown as Director of Photography and we were good to go.

And we were good to go, because we already had the perfect location – on Tom’s property. Wolfman’s cabin is probably the third most important character in the book. As it so happened, Tom has the perfect replica sitting on his 40 acres, just a few yards from his house. Again, just for emphasis, Tom Emmons IS Wolfman.

While I was caught up in travel problems in New York City, Tom cleared out a room in his cabin and did an amazing job of dressing the set. He then consulted with me about Wolfman’s look, and put together the perfect wardrobe. I appreciated all of this a lot, especially as I was supposed to help with the effort. Instead, I sat in an airport and received amazing still photos of what Tom had created in my absence. As always, I’d come up with something creepy, and he’d bumped it up a notch.

The day of the shoot arrived and everything came together beautifully. I had no doubt Tom would deliver, and he did – in spades. I was a little worried he’d act Alyssa off the stage, but she wonderfully held her own. Tom has a huge force of personality, so it was no small thing for a 14 year old to go toe-to-toe with him. As always, Jeff was the consummate professional, and John-Paul did an awesome job capturing the scene.

For me, the greatest moment of the day was during Tom’s first full take. He’d perfectly found Wolfman’s voice – the inflection, delivery, the sadistic joy and angry remorse – and as he went through his lines the space filling the cabin got quieter and quieter, as Alyssa, Jeff, and John-Paul and I absorbed the performance. It was awesome. Not only because of what was happening in the present, but because it was exactly as I knew it would be, back when I first stared at Tom in January of 2013 and thought, “I want to make my book into an independent feature film and have THAT guy star in it.” I still think that, by the way. In my not-so-humble opinion, there’s nobody who could it better than Tom Emmons.

Your Handy Dandy Guide to the 140th Kentucky Derby

Wildcat Red is in the yellow bridle. He's super serious, super feisty, and super intense. He likes to fight and win. I adore him.

For me, there’s really only one horse in the race – California Chrome. I wrote about him already, at the end of this blog post. I am rooting for him wholeheartedly and he is beyond a doubt the most talented horse in the race.

That said, Art Sherman did that thing that a lot of trainers do and that drives me crazy – he shipped in late. Chrome will not work over the Churchill Downs surface and he won’t get a chance to feel at home for the big race. As it stands, he’s been anxious in the empty paddock and when he gallops down the long stretch, he’s turning his head to look at the empty stands. He’s going to have a lot more to look at when there are 100,000 people in there. So, that’s disappointing. Or maybe Art knows exactly what he’s doing and the colt will win the race by daylight.

Even if he’s prepared the horse perfectly, a million things can go wrong in a 19 horse field. And heck – they’re not in the starting gate yet. Hoppertunity, the second choice, scratched today with a foot bruise. Which is for the best. No horse named Hoppertunity should win the Derby.

Here’s the thing about this Derby. It’s always a hard race to handicap. This time around, it’s an impossible race to handicap. The majority of the field are horses that want to race on or near the lead. This is going to be a jockeys race like none other. So, you might as well throw a dart or pull a number out of a hat, because handicapping this bad boy is nearly pointless. That said, here are some that stand out for me.

CANDY BOY: The forgotten horse. He wasn’t fit enough for the Santa Anita Derby and ran like a short horse. He’s fit now, though, and was shipped in early to Churchill Downs, where he is thriving. Very talented, could jump up and take this.

Rajiv loves Wicked Strong. <3

WILDCAT RED: I love this tenacious little fighter! He is bred to sprint and somehow has managed to keep on winning or running a super close second. He has a huge heart to outrun his pedigree. 1 1/4 miles is probably asking way too much, but I’ll be rooting for this underdog!

WICKED STRONG: He looks the part and he’s one of the only horses in the field who comes from out of it. Traffic should go his way. On a sentimental note, I was a big fan very early in his career, so it’s nice to see my belief in him come to fruition. Jimmy Jerkens is a classy trainer and it would be neat to see him win and Rajiv Maragh, his jockey, LOVES this horse. It’s definitely a team you can root for.

DANZA: So this is an interesting prospect. Came out of nowhere to destroy the Arkansas Derby, training lights out in Louisville, looks the part, has a lot of the pieces of the puzzle (breeding, training, etc.) The question is – was his race at Oaklawn a fluke, or is he the real deal? Time will tell. Would not be at all surprised to see him win it.

INTENSE HOLIDAY: I feel obligated to mention him. I’m not into this horse at all, but everybody has been going on about how wonderfully he’s training. So, yeah. The experts say he’s super great. Blah.

MEDAL COUNT: Dale Romans, his trainer, talks as though this horse is an undercover magical unicorn. Romans doesn’t tout horses unless they’re good, and I believe this guy will have a great career, I just think the Derby may be coming at the wrong time and on the wrong surface. (He doesn’t seem to love

The handsome - and very meaty - Medal Count. He kind of reminds me of a tall Seabiscuit, who was also a meaty horse.

dirt.) He’s an interesting looking fellow, though. A son of the late great Dynaformer, Medal Count is a BIG boy who carries a lot of weight. Not the usual body type for a distance horse, but he’s bred to run to China and back and not take a deep breath.

Ultimately, this is California Chrome’s race to lose and I really struggle to care about the rest of the field. (Except adorable Wildcat Red. I do love that feisty fellow.) I hope Art Sherman’s ship-in-late plan pays dividends. If Chrome fails, it won’t be because he isn’t the best horse in the race. It will be because of a terrible trip (which will either be nobody’s fault or his jockey Victor Espinoza’s fault) or it will be because he becomes anxious and burns all of his energy up before the race. If that happens, the responsibility will fall solely upon his trainer.

Of Hope and Horses

The photo that started it all. Rachel Alexandra in the Martha Washington Stakes.

In 2009, I saw a photo of a horse. Her name was Rachel Alexandra. She was beautiful and had unusual markings, but that wasn’t what caught my eye. What made me take notice was the explosive energy contained in the photo. Rachel’s stride was so powerful, her entire forehand was launched into the air, almost as if she was rearing. That sometimes happens in the first quarter of a race. What made this so remarkable is that the photo was snapped as Rachel turned for home, when most horses are tiring. I instantly thought something, conjured up a word that I’ve never thought before or since – Secretariat. I watched the race that the still photo was taken from. I got goosebumps. Here is the Martha Washington Stakes.

Comparing a horse to Secretariat is the kiss of death. There will never be another one like him. Certainly Rachel wasn’t. She was, in my humble opinion, something even better – she was Rachel Alexandra. Not possessed of the same superpowers as Big Red, perhaps, but possessed of superpowers all her own. The great sportswriter Bill Nack once said of Secretariat, “We expected so much from him, and then he exceeded our expectations.”

That quote has lived with me in a powerful way. Firstly, it is the perfect summation of Secretariat, who became a superstar in 1973, something pure and decent that a cynical and embittered nation, dealing with Nixon, could hang their hat upon. The country expected so much of him, and then he delivered the 1973 Belmont, a supernatural performance. Secondarily, that quote sums up something important about life. How often does it happen that we allow ourselves to hope as big as we can imagine, and then reality replies, “No, dream bigger.”

A good friend of mine, who we horsey folk call Wooster, is my comrade-in-arms in horse racing fandom. Together, we rooted on Smarty Jones, at every turn saying, “Of course, because I love him, he will inevitably break my heart.” Which he did. Smarty’s Belmont was the most heartbreaking loss I’ve ever seen. But that was after taking us on an improbable fairy tale ride through the Triple Crown season.

Secretariat. There will never be another stride like that one.

I loved Smarty Jones and jumped on the bandwagon fairly quickly, but all the way I had my doubts. I was hopeful, but not fully committed to the cause. I worried about his ability to get the distance, his ability to settle, etc.

The moment I saw that still photo of Rachel, I was a believer. She made me hope as big as I could hope – but the reality was, I needed to dream even bigger. I came to expect so much from her, and then she exceeded my expectations. She was my own Secretariat.

Throughout 2009, Rachel was unbeaten. Some of her races took tremendous heart – she did not like the surface at Pimlico, had to go fast early, but still won the Preakness Stakes, becoming the first filly to do so since 1924. Her final race of the year, the Woodward, against older males, was no fun for me to watch. It took everything she had to win that race. Afterwards, she was exhausted, leg weary. She had made history in that race – no three year old filly had ever beaten older males in top competition in New York – but it broke her. During her time off between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, I started to hear rather terrifying reports of how her new trainer Steve Asmussen was handling her. Basically, she was just on stall rest. For months. Not injured. But they were so paranoid something would happen to her, she got no turn out. A hard horse to handle in the best of times, she was hand walked drugged out of mind on ACE. I stopped hoping for more miracles out of Rachel. Not because the horse was any less miraculous, but because her owner, Jess Jackson, was a crazy person and her trainer, Steve Asmussen, is the worst. Always has been, always will be. If Jess Jackson had kept her with her original trainer, the not-at-all-famous but genuinely great horseman Hal Wiggins, I have no doubt Rachel would have put together two sterling seasons. Wow. That was 2009, and I’m still angry.

I’m going to keep ranting, though. Her original owner, Dolphus Morrison, sold her the day she won the Kentucky Oaks. Here’s something I’ll never understand. You’re an old, rich man. Your horse does this, WINNING THE OAKS BY 21 LENGTHS, and then crazy person Jess Jackson comes up and says, “Hey, rich old man. Do you want more millions of dollars? I’d like the horse you named after your granddaughter.” And Dolphus apparently said, “You know what, with those millions of dollars, I bet I could buy an amazing life experience! Maybe I could buy an incredible racehorse or something like that.” If you’re already a millionaire and you’re not that long for the world, why do you need MORE money? What could you possibly buy that’s better than what you already have? Also, if you want to give it to your grandkids, here’s a tip – they can make their own cash and the most important thing you can pass on is the idea that there are things more valuable than money.

You know who knows that lesson? The owners of California Chrome, this year’s favorite for the Kentucky Derby. They’ve already turned down $6 million for him. They’re not rich people. They’re working class folks who bought a cheap mare, bred her to a cheap stallion, and BOOM! their first horse ever – California Chrome. The name of their racing stable is DAP Racing, which stands for Dumb Ass Partners. Apparently, the groom who took care of the cheap mare told them, “Anyone who buys this mare is a dumb ass.” They decided she needed to be with some people who would appreciate her. The mare, Love the Chase, has richly rewarded their good faith.

California Chrome pricks his ears forward as he wins a race. A sign of a smart horse who loves his job.

Two days before Love the Chase had her foal, her owner had a dream that she would have a coppery chestnut colt with a ton of white markings. Lots of white is referred to as “chrome” in the horse world, so the man came up with the name, “California Chrome” before the colt was even born. When he was still very young, they wrote to Art Sherman, a 77 year old veteran trainer and said, “We have your Derby horse.” Art thought their enthusiasm was adorable in a sarcastic sort of way, but was still willing to take their money. As it turns out, the Dumb Ass Partners knew what they were talking about. They always believed in Junior, as they call him.

The first time I saw California Chrome was much like the first time I saw Rachel. I watched him run and it was an unqualified yes. Yes, this horse was special. Yes, he could get a distance. Yes, he had the mind, the athleticism, and the heart. It’s so, so rare for all of these things to come together. I’ve been following horse racing my entire life and those special horses don’t even take up one hand.

When he first appeared on the scene, Wooster and I compared notes. We had both fallen in love with California Chrome. We agreed that this would inevitably lead to disappointment, because that’s what we always say.

Here’s the thing about great horses – they force you to hope anyway. Even jaded ol’ racetrackers like Wooster and myself, who have been let down a million times over. They force you to hope, to dream big. Once in a blue moon, they come back and say, “You’re not dreaming big enough.” That’s what California Chrome said in the Santa Anita Derby, where I expected him to regress after destroying four races in a row. Instead of regressing, he did this.

This June I will be at the Belmont Stakes with my family. It’s the first time any of us have ever been to a Triple Crown race. We bought tickets before I had ever watched California Chrome race. The Kentucky Derby hasn’t even been run yet, but this horse is making me hope anyway. Sometimes, as with Rachel’s perfect season, what is inevitable is a dream come true.

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For no real reason, I want to share some pictures of Secretariat’s stride. Because it is freakish and supernatural and mind blowing. All of these pics are from the Preakness, where he set yet another new record, but the clock malfunctioned and he didn’t get credit for it.

LOOK HOW FAR ABOVE THE GROUND HE IS. HE IS FLYING. IT'S NOT NATURAL.

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LOOK AT THE EXTENSION. THAT IS INSANE.

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IT'S LIKE HE'S REARING. IT'S CRAZY.