Those who are regular followers of my blog postings know that I often write about personal interests. After the sermons, Torah commentaries, observations on the serious news stories of our day, I like to let people know about my own hobbies and interests. Whether it’s classic situation comedies, traveling the backroads of New England and of Michigan as well or favorite memories from my childhood, the blog gives me an opportunity to write about the things I love.
And I am about to do it here.
But, let me warn you all, this one might surprise you and it might upset some of you. I will probably hear a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t like this particular pursuit and I’ve heard most of them already, some from my adoring family members who take great exception to my interest. But, I am not going to be defensive any more.
I love horse racing.
I find it beautiful, fascinating and very, very exciting.
I haven’t been to the races for many years and that shouldn’t be surprising as racetracks are closing around the country, victims of other forms of sport and other forms of gambling. But, I used to go, usually once a year or so with $20 dollars in my pocket to bet. That was enough. I really wasn’t there to win money which is fortunate because I never did. I went to take in the atmosphere, to try to understand the nuances of the racing form, to listen to the veteran horseplayers share their wisdom or their frustration and to watch the beautiful horses run like the wind.
I would like to believe that the horses want to run and love it. I think that’s true but I’m not sure. I’d like to believe that every trainer treats their horses with the greatest of care. I think that might be an exaggeration. But, I just love to watch the horses run.
This Weekend, American Pharoah (and that is spelled correctly) will try to be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes. So many horses have won the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness in recent years only to fail to win the 3rd and final leg. I’m hoping that he will do it and most importantly, that he and all the other horses will survive “the trip” without injury, without getting bumped- any more than usual anyway- and that American racing fans will have a new hero.
I don’t watch much horse racing either in person or on TV but when I do, I just find it fascinating despite all the reasons why people say I shouldn’t. It is thrilling and nerve-racking. It is also exquisitely beautiful.
So, now my favorite horse racing story and like any story I tell about my life, it’s 100% true.
When I was a rabbi in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, there was a lovely woman who was a member of our congregation. She was in her late 80s and was such a sweet person.
One Saturday evening, she called me on the phone and told me in her slow, halting, Kentucky accent that her brother had died at age 94. I asked her if she would go to the funeral which was going to be back home in Kentucky.
She said that she was going: her younger brother was going to pick her up at a bus station in Western Pennsylvania and take her down to Kentucky. I asked her where he was going to pick her up and she said in a very slow, deliberate southern drawl way: “Breeeeeeze-wood”.
I had never heard of Breezewood and she explained to me that it is a town at the junction of two major interstate highways and that that was where he would meet her there: “Breeeeeeeze-wood” she told me. She must have said that name 10 times
So, that night as I tried to sleep, I kept hearing that word: “Breeeeeeeeze-wood” in my mind over and over again. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. In the morning, I opened the Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Page as I always did and my eye was drawn to the evening’s race card at not so nearby Brandywine Raceway. I never looked at it but for some reason I found myself turning to look at the list of horses. There, in the first race, running at 20-1 odds was a horse named Breezewood. It was bashert, it was fate.
I thought for a moment and then got in the car and went to the ATM Machine and took out 100 dollars, a fortune for me in those days certainly. Late in the afternoon, I drove to Brandywine Raceway and saw that he was now running at 30-1. I went up to the window planning to put $100 on Breezewood to win.
I chickened out.
I bet $2
He won by 3 lengths. I won some $60. I would have won somewhere close to $3,000
I learned something that night but I’m not sure what.
But, that story is one more reason why I hope that American Pharoah, incorrect spelling and all, wins the Triple Crown.
And if I haven’t convinced you that there is something to love about horse racing, listen to this absolutely brilliant song by Dan Fogelberg. I can’t listen to it without a tear in my eye and that is no exaggeration.
I wish all of these majestic, gorgeous creatures a safe trip. And I hope American Pharoah wins!