VINTAGE GOSSIP is alive and well in the elegant hands of Amy Phillips Penn, former society columnist for the New York Post. Every Thursday, Amy pens her posts with that same touch of class, making the legends and lore of a bygone era as relevant today as they were when Jackie O was queen of New York.
America has a new Triple Crown winner; a metaphorically magical, “Yes-I-can.” Will we ever spell “Pharoah” the same way again?
At long last, after 30 plus years, we have American Pharoah, who won it once, claimed it twice, and aced it once again at Belmont. Finally, America laps up the laps in this big-time win.
The last mythical horse to claim this honor was Affirmed in 1978. Racing fans have endured a spiritual drought as we’ve watched recent candidates conquer the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, only to be defeated in the Belmont.
Horses are mythological. Each star that is born and dazzles us with an Olympian performance reminds us of past champions and champions yet to be born. Therein lies a nostalgia and acute respect that we hold our breaths to witness. The achievement refreshes our very beings: There is greatness in this world.
Chappy “Alfred” Morris has racing in his blood and American racing has the Morris family colors in their thoroughbred history:
“My father, John Morris, was the fifth generation to breed and run thoroughbred race horses. Our colors were all scarlet, which means that they were the oldest racing colors in America. They would still be if my brother and I owned race horses.”
My great-great-grandfather, Francis Morris, won the first Belmont Stakes ever run. The year was 1867 and the horse’s name was Ruthless. Ruthless went on to sire a main line breeding in America. To this day, my greatest experience as a spectator was watching Secretariat win the Belmont by 30 lengths in 1973. I remember to this day being in the paddock before the race and being moved by how beautiful a creature he was. His looks and personality were as memorable as his racing career.”
We’ve witnessed so may close calls in the last few years, where amazing horses and owners with script-worthy stories won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but didn’t conquer the allusive Belmont. How often is a star really born? How rarely does he morph into mythology as he flies, undaunted with a packed crowd of well-wishers waving him on.
American Pharoah’s jockey Victor Espinoza’s life is the American dream realized and surpassed. Mythology peeks in, and then inks dry: Espinoza is the oldest jockey and the only Latino to win this allusive accolade. Born in a Mexican village that makes you want to cry at just a glimpse of an old photo, Espinoza refuels the American dream by donating his winnings to the City of Hope charity for children’s cancer Research.
A jockey-sized man without a horse, he didn’t know he had big dreams yet to be realized as he drove a bus out of his village: a getaway for a new life. Horses were not on his dance card or hoofing into his dreams.
Many of us have our own racing history. Mine was my great-great-Uncle Max. Everyone has an Uncle Max, many have said. Perhaps that’s a cliché in its own right, but every cliché has its own headlines.
My Uncle Max played polo, employed a nine-goal pro, and married a much younger bride. Netflix take note, when he died the pro married Max’s wife. “That’s polo.”
I named a horse of mine Max, after my uncle. His registered name was “Perfect Guy.” My friend Annie flipped his lip, and there was a tattoo ready to be researched. It gave us his name, and the theory that he was a companion horse at the race track. While Max clearly didn’t have the fire in his belly to race, or the stomach to enjoy polo, he went on to be a champion show horse in the hunter rings on both coasts.
As for my Uncle Max, those in Okeechobee, Florida who are old enough to remember say that he was an owner of one of the most prestigious racing training centers in Indiantown, Florida. Journalistic skills aside, I have not been able to confirm this in indelible ink. Some records simply don’t go back as far as local lore.
What’s a great horse story without a tinge of a tantalizing mystery racing through? Hail to American Pharoah and the next undisclosed winner of the ultimate racing challenge: the Triple Crown.
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