Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Tremendous Machine

As he watched the 1973 Belmont Stakes unfold before him and sought to describe the action to a national television audience, veteran sports announcer Chic Anderson was grasping for superlatives to describe the dominant performance of Secretariat.  “… Like a tremendous machine …” Anderson barked as the three-year-old extended his historic lead to 12 lengths going into the final turn, an unfathomable margin that would explode to 31 lengths by the time the horse crossed the finish line.

The suspicion here is that few horse lovers – then or now – would choose the term “machine” to describe Big Red.  Whether shaped by the undeniable, real-time euphoria of that Triple Crown run almost 40 years ago – yes, I’m old enough to remember it – or perhaps kindled by the recent movie that allowed so many to relive or live for the first time the story of Secretariat, I think it is fair to say that in the eyes of multitudes, the horse was more majestic than mechanical.

And yet the venerable Anderson can be forgiven if he simply ran out of ways to illustrate the spectacle playing out in front of the sports world that early summer of ’73.  Secretariat then – just like Secretariat now – held us spellbound.  What did I know at the time of the equestrian world?  Still, I would find myself sketching the blue-and-white checkerboard pattern of Ron Turcotte’s racing silks on my school bookcovers well into the following Fall. 

There have been two Triple Crown winners since Secretariat’s run to glory, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.  Even coming at a time when I was arguably more attuned to the broader sports enterprise, those late ’70s achievements never etched themselves upon my consciousness in the manner of Secretariat’s earlier feat.  Watching his record-setting run inthe Belmont remains spine-chilling this many years later.  Our oldest, who had a grandson of Secretariat as her beloved riding partner for a period of time, claims she cannot watch it without crying.

I’ll Have Another’s scratch from today’s race in New York adds an unfortunate twist to the lore and the lure of the Triple Crown.   Eleven other horses since Affirmed have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to be denied victory in the Belmont.  Perhaps that underscores the truly extraordinary achievement by those rare horses who have claimed the prize.  I just know that, for me, Secretariat’s grand run that summer long ago remains ageless and solidly embedded at the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment.

Friday, June 1, 2012


The close of another school year punctuates thoughts about the hastened pace of the passage of time.  If you are a parent, I am sure your share that feeling with me at some level.  The achievements of our children – highlighted as they tend to be this time of year – produce a satisfying sense of accomplishment even as they underscore the rapid move from Kindergarten to Commencement.

Even the (surprisingly quick) process of culling still-fresh materials gathered from the year just past is an indicator of accomplishment and the movement of time.  “Dad,” I hear from the next room, “do you want to keep my Texas history notes?”  No, those can be recycled.  Just retain the knowledge.

Achievement is also evident in the equestrian arena.  Earlier this week, I watched from up the hill as our two girls participated in a jumping lesson.  No one else in the lesson, just our two kids.  I think what struck me deepest as I watched them alternate on courses either they or their instructor defined was how elegantly and how proficiently they perform something that I am completely and utterly unable to do.  Flying over jumps.  Speeding toward the next one.  Horse and kid (almost always) in sync. That is really cool! 

If we were talking about hitting a golf ball or returning a tennis serve, I could hold my own in the endeavor (note, no claim here of elegance or proficiency).  But in the equestrian arena, it is all them:  their desire to excel, their enjoyment of the sport that so few of their friends understand, their love of their animals.  It is really fun to watch.  And even in the face of setbacks, it continues to be a real blessing.

I have a friend whose son is the “screamer” in a fledgling screamo/rock band (I’m not making this up) and even as distant as this is from my friend’s own background, his pride in and support for his son just bubbles forth ever time we talk about it.  The achievements of our kids – whatever form they may take – bring to us this interesting sense of accomplishment-by-association, I guess.  Perhaps especially so if we find ourselves watching their talents unfurl and wondering, “Now, where did that come from?”