16 August 2005

Champions - for a year

While sipping a gin and tonic from my brand-new WV Derby souvenir glass, my thoughts have turned to the fleeting nature of fame and success. The glass lists all of the previous WV Derby winners. While the 2004 winner, Sir Shacklton, just recently came in 3rd in the Whitney at Saratoga, most of the other past winners are a mystery to me. What kind of careers have they had since their day in the sun in West Virginia?

Such musings have deepened my appreciation of the book
Champions: The Lives, Times, and Past Performances of the 2oth Century's Greatest Thoroughbreds
, published by DRF Press in 2000. The editors of the Daily Racing Form present a decade-by-decade overview of thoroughbred racing complete with photos -- and past performance records for hundreds of champion horses, in alphabetical order. All of the "big names" of the 1900's are here: Triple Crown winners, Breeder's Cup winners, and crowd favorites. They're all here: Kelso, John Henry, Whirlaway, Man O'War, Seabiscuit, Affirmed, Personal Ensign (with only wins to her record!), and Lady's Secret. Their lives reduced to numbers, yes, but oh, what numbers they are.

Though the connective essays are well-written, for me, the most moving part of the book was page 278. There was the brief, fiery career of Ruffian, possibly the greatest filly ever, laid out in simple black-and-white. And across the page, on 279, is the lengthy and impressive career of Secretariat.

I lift my shiny new Derby glass to two of the best.