Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Tall Jockey, a Magnificent Horse, and a Lily

Photo: Terri Cage

This year’s edition of the Breeders’ Cup Turf is considered by many to have the best story of the entire 2011 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Many will look back and remember Joseph O’Brien’s incredible victory aboard St. Nicholas Abbey. Though I am riveted by that story, there is so much more than just that story to the 2011 Turf to me.
As the horses thundered down the lush green grass of the Churchill Downs turf course in the final yards of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, a brilliant mahogany bay with a long-legged jockey drew away from the field to cross the wire victoriously.
“St. Nicholas Abbey, history in the making! St. Nicholas Abbey! Joey O’Brien for his father, Aidan O’Brien! History is made!” Trevor Denman cried as the magnificent bay galloped towards the wire with the five-foot-eleven, eighteen-year-old jockey that rode him to the wire to become the tallest and youngest jockey to ever win a Breeders’ Cup race.

Photo: Terri Cage
When Joseph O’Brien rode up to the winner’s circle after the Turf, it was clear how joyous he and his family were. The young jockey’s face was lit up by a gigantic grin and the faces of his loved ones were no different.

It was also obvious how beautiful St. Nicholas Abbey was. I was riveted by the gleaming bay colt. As he stood in the winner’s circle, his head turned in the opposite direction of the cameras inside the winner’s enclosure. The veins on his sweaty neck were defined, the whites of his eyes showing slightly as he strained to look behind him. For a moment, it was almost as if the magnificent horse was gazing right at me.

Photo: Terri Cage

It was as if St. Nicholas Abbey was saying, “Hey, don’t forget about me. I know my humans have a great story, but I’m the one that galloped across that finish line.”
I won’t forget about his humans’ story or him. Nor will I forget about a small token I received after the victory. As a blissful man skipped away with the garland of flowers draped over his shoulders, I watched as a white lily dropped from the blanket, landing in the moist dirt of the track. It was so close, yet so far away.
That’s when my mom kindly asked someone to grab it for me. Before I knew it, I was holding a white lily from St. Nicholas Abbey’s blanket of flowers in my cold hands. Just moments before, this flower had been on a garland aboard a magnificent horse, with Aidan O’Brien’s son – the youngest and tallest jockey to ever win a Breeders’ Cup race – sitting just behind the blanket. The flower was now mine. I was forever tied to St. Nicholas Abbey’s and the O’Briens’ victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Photo by Mary Cage
Not only did that one lily connect me to the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf, but it brought me even closer to the Breeders’ Cup, which I already held dear to my heart. As I stood there gazing at the flower, smiling ecstatically, I could almost picture myself on the other side of the winner’s circle wall, standing with my own Breeders’ Cup champion. It was a big dream – one I may only ever hope to achieve – but I could almost taste it. How could I not when I was holding a lily from a Breeders’ Cup winner’s garland of flowers with the winner’s circle just a few feet away?
The lily is long since dead. It is now crusty and brown, but I refuse to throw it away. It connects me to St. Nicholas Abbey’s triumph, to the Breeders’ Cup, and to my dream of someday standing inside the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle. And if that dream ever does come true, I won’t keep every single flower on the garland. I will instead hand a few flowers to a few young fans to send their Breeders’ Cup dreams skyrocketing.

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