As some of you may know, in the past I’ve been an active horsewoman. My last horse was a thoroughbred I bought off the track as a three-year-old. I called him Long Time, as in a long time coming since I had such a beautiful horse. We did the Northern California show circuit of hunters over fences. At one time I was third in the state in the 40-year-olds and older category. He loved to jump and especially loved the show ring. A true show-off!
I continue to participate in the ritual of tuning in to the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. I put it on my DVR so I don’t have to watch any of the ads or the endless commentators fill up space with inane blather prior to the race.
For those of you who have not seen this year’s 2022 “Run for the Roses”, please allow me the pleasure of describing it because it lifted my spirits and gave me hope for the future.
Here’s the story. The limit of the number of horses allowed to run in the Derby is twenty. The rules stipulate that a horse has until 9 AM on Friday, the day before the race, to scratch or to withdraw from the race. The average cost of a Kentucky Derby horse can be anywhere from $500,000 to $2.4 million. The three-year old Rich Strikewas bought by Red TR Racing LLC for just $30,000. He was standing by at Churchill Downs as the 21st horse and would not be allowed to race unless, for some reason, a horse dropped out of the race. By Friday, 8:44 AM (with 16 minutes to entry deadline) no horse had dropped out. But a minute later, unbelievably, one horse did drop out.
So, Rich Strike was invited to join the field as the longshot horse going off at 80-1 odds. He’s ridden by Venezuelan born Sonny Leon, a rider who has never jockeyed in the Derby. The 20th post position puts them as far away from the rail as possible. Rich Strike would have to cover more ground than any other horse in the race. Watching it you can see this feisty colt navigate the crowded field, picking off each tiring horse one by one. In such a crowded race, when coming from behind, it’s easy to get boxed in and have no room to actually run. The two favorites, Epicenter and Zondon, didn’t seem to be aware that this chestnut colt was stalking them as he was stealthily being guided through the thundering herd. However, with great heart, skillful jockeying, and luck, by the time they got to the final turn toward the finish line Rich Strike had a clear lane to finally whiz past the two front runners and win by three-quarters of a length. What a spectacular and undisputed finish. It was an astonishing, delightful, amazing, enthralling, and breath-taking come-from-behind performance.
Seabiscuit was another horse that ignited the imagination of a generation. He was considered a small horse at 15.2 hands high and had had an inauspicious start to his racing career, winning only a quarter of his first 40 races, but became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope to many Americans during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He beat the 1937 Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, by four lengths in a two-horse special at Pimlico and was voted American Horse of the Year for 1938.
These examples give me hope in the face of insurmountable odds. As I write the word insurmountable, I ponder its meaning. The etymology of the word “In” in Latin means “not”. I’m further struck that within “insurmountable” is the word mount. In horsemanship in order to get astride our horse, “we mount our horse.” Therefore, to be mountable, is to be “able to mount”—or to scale the heights.
There is a saying, “We don’t know enough to be pessimistic.” Even so, it’s hard to not go to despair after such things as the draft proposal of ending accessibility for abortions in this country, the invasion of Ukraine, the ongoing COVID issue, voting rights imperiled, racism continuing to rear its ugly head, and the on-going polarization of our country, and at the top of the list, climate change.
So, how do we surmount these seemingly insurmountable challenges?
One final thought about the odds of the human race as distinct from horse racing. In horse racing it is about competition, the human race is about collaboration.
Drawing on the wisdom from South Africa in negotiating seemingly overwhelming obstacles, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk together.” Let’s commit to giving our individual gifts, talents, and spheres of influence to stand together for all that is good and right for all life on this precious planet.