Author: Pam Luedtke
Having had a life-long love for horses, I am usually at least somewhat interested in the Triple Crown racing event each spring, just to see what will happen. The Triple Crown series of three thoroughbred horse races begins with the Kentucky Derby in early May, followed by the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in subsequent weeks. The ultimate goal is for your horse to win all three, something which has not happened for many years. In 2014, the event was particularly interesting because there was an actual contender who could win the three races and “take the Crown”. And on top of that, this contender was a compelling horse with an intriguing back-story. A real crowd-pleaser to be sure.
The story involves two regular working guys who breed a budget mare in their one-horse stable to produce a winning colt called California Chrome. They name their outfit “Dumb Ass Stables” and put the picture of a jackass on their racing silks. They hire a 77 year old small-time trainer and create a step by step plan to win the big daddy of U.S. horse racing events, the Triple Crown. And the horse himself turns out to be a beautiful animal, appearing intelligent and big-hearted, California Chrome brought a special quality to the mix. The admiring and hopeful public (myself included) fell a bit in love with the horse, and with the idea that this little horse with the big heart, the horse of the “everyman” (rather than the big money breeders), could go all the way to the big win.
So, going in to the final race in early June, the Belmont Stakes, there was great excitement amongst those in the “Chromie” camp and from the adoring public. There was the opportunity to make history, and over $8 million was bet on this one horse in this one race. The owners were charmed by the situation, certain their horse was going to take it home for them, make their dreams come true. . . it was pure magic about to be made, and they were just riding the bubble.
But, California Chrome did not win the race. In fact, he did not even finish in the top three. And when the big dream didn’t come true, it was very, very hard moment for the owners to accept, especially the duo’s “front man” Steve. When his dream bubble shattered, it was with such excruciating disappointment that his pain was palpable to the observer. His reaction was displayed on camera, for all those watching to see. He couldn’t get his head around what had just happened. He was visibly angry, perhaps even bitter, and he verbally railed against the established horse racing industry and their big business strategies, blaming them for his horse’s defeat. His wife stood behind him, mortified, and tried to get him to stop. He turned and shouted to her “I don’t care”. She quietly said “but I do (care)”. My heart went out to both of them.
Two things struck me as I observed this situation. First, that this was one of the most honest displays of human emotion I have seen in the media in a very long time. And, that there is something that can be learned from it.
While later criticized for “sour grapes” and “poor sportsmanship”, this fellow had a point. There was indeed a thread of truth in what he was saying (shouting). How can the run for the Triple Crown be considered a level playing field when so many of the horses do not run in all three races of the series? In fact, none of the top three finishers in this final race had done so. They were fresh and rested competing against a horse that was coming with an undeniable degree of depletion. Perhaps this is why there has been no Triple Crown winner in the past 36 years (now 37 years). Is the dream even realistic anymore? And if not, why are we putting so much into keeping this dream alive? Horse racing is now big business. It is about profit; not about which horse has the heart to go the distance.
One would think that this owner Steve would have considered the above going in, but it seems clear he lost sight of it. He must have known there was a very good chance his horse would not be able to win that final race. But he got all caught up in the fantasy; was swept away by it perhaps. . . he just wanted the dream so bad. Had he been able to keep in mind that there were two equally possible outcomes for this race, even in the face of all the hype, he would have suffered much less when it did not turn out as he had hoped. He would have been able to move through his disappointment much more quickly and smoothly to arrive at a place where he could accept and appreciate what California Chrome had in fact achieved, which was considerable.
You may be asking why you should care about this in the first place? A painful display of defeat in a big time sporting event. . . happens all the time. But when we think about it, how often does this same sort of thing play out in the context of our own individual lives? How often do we build ourselves up for the big dream, get caught up in our own hype without even realizing it? And then have our dreams dashed with disappointment and a sense of failure. This is such a tough way to go. Had we only kept a more balanced view going in; had we genuinely considered both ways things could turn out . . . we would suffer so much less when it didn’t go “our way”, and recover so much more quickly to move on to what’s next.