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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Smallest Racing Dynasty

After viewing Disney’s latest release, Secretariat with my 16-year-old son, many fond memories surfaced and we talked endlessly about ”The Horse”. My youngest brother, our Mother and I were all lucky to have witnessed the Big Red colt win the 1973 Derby. I was a student at the University of Louisville at that time. Louisville was a city we visited many times. It was our Father Itzy’s birthplace..so in addition to the college, we had many friends and relatives there.One relative was closely tied to horse racing…our Uncle Sammy .

Uncle Sammy married my Fathers sister. And simply put, he was a character. His job by day was to run a small liquor store in downtown Louisville were he sold spirits and cashed paychecks ( only after the payee passed his strict “criss crossing” examination). As he professed to us kids…he was a “regular Dick Tracy” when it came to detecting bogus checks.

But Uncle Sammy also had a passion for the ponies and his other “job” was a racetrack bookie. A dark secret that was kept from the children! Prior to the Derby my brother and I made local headlines. Our Mother discovered I had opened an OFF TRACK BETTING (OTB) account for my then 15-year-old brother. She was not happy that her children were following a criminal path and reported us to the local newspapers in Rochester NY.

The only tragedy was that Uncle Sammy never got to see the end of a race. He had suffered a heart attack years before and his doctor ordered him to avoid excitement..so he always turned his back at the track as the horses thundered down the stretch. And in all good humor, Uncle Sammy had a stutter which exacerbated when he got excited. So when he spoke of the ponies, their grand lineage and the jocks…it was a cacophony of words and spit…but we enjoyed the stories.

Uncle Sammy took me and my brother to Churchill Downs on several visits but the most memorable had to be the 1973 Kentucky Derby. I recall it was a pleasant Louisville day and we arrived to watch all 9 races. Most people are not aware that the Derby is the 8th race in a day of races at Churchill Downs. Many of my classmates were watching from the infield but we had lucked into Grandstand tickets. We saw the parade of women in absurd hats each trying to best the other in their on audacious manner.

I remember the race as if it was run yesterday. Secretariat thundered down the homestretch like a proverbial equine freight train. However, the MOST exciting race for me was the Belmont, the 3rd leg in the Triple Crown. Never have a I seen a horse since then leave his competition in a wake of dust as did Secretariat in this race. 

Little did our Mother know that her youngest children’s paths in life would diverge but remain tied by horses. My brother loved to watch them race..I loved to ride them and learn about their medical problems. He worked at the Maryland Jockey Club and later as a VP at DC Edelman…I went on to become a veterinarian…Years later still we are still linked by the first Saturday each May.

1 comment:

  1. The Kentucky Derby is the eighth of nine races?

    We guess they want the Derby out of the way before getting to the big race!