If you are a fan of Southern California racing, and you watched Animal Planet’s “Jockeys,” then I’m guessing last Sunday, the first of July, pretty much sucked for you. Another black headline for racing and another possibility that some unfamiliar fans would think the worst about the sport, yet again.
The whole day was just one bad roller coaster ride for me, as it was for others later that afternoon. I spent the day saying goodbye to a dog I’d had in my life for 13 years. My boyfriend adopted her from a rescue organization in 1998, when she was about two years old. We’d nursed her through a slow decline in the past two years as her degenerative spinal disease took its toll and rendered her back legs pretty useless and ignoring of her wishes. She could still make her tail wag when she saw us, but last Sunday it was clear to us that despite her indomitable will, her body was no longer living up to its part of the partnership and was now causing her pain she could no longer hide from us. Throughout a day destined to be thoroughly and utterly sad, I occasionally checked my email and was reminded by Equibase that “John Johny Jak is entered today at BETFAIR HOLYWOOD PARK.” YAY!!! Finally something to look forward to! Even if he didn’t win, or even hit the board, I was thrilled to see him entered again. I was getting a little worried. I’d missed the fact he’d had successful colic surgery over the winter.
I won John Johny Jak, in a silent auction held by the Fantasy Racing Game I play, on January 13, 2012. Despite his game win in the Lure Stakes the previous November, as well as his respectable fourth behind Jeranimo in the Grade 2 Citation Handicap Thanksgiving weekend, I got him for $60,000 (I bid $200,000; minimum bid was $50k). I didn’t expect to win the Breeder’s Cup with this horse, but I thought he would have a respectable and probably long career. I knew my fellow game players were making a mistake in ignoring this horse. I knew who his trainer was, and I knew that was a huge plus in why I bid as high as I did.
I mostly bid on him because I believe in his trainer, Kristin Mulhall. I wasn’t following the news closely, so I honestly didn’t know why he was gone for so long, but I knew Kristin was taking care of him, because that’s just who she is. She loves just about anything with four legs, and then some. I knew this first because I saw it in how she conducted herself on “Jockeys.” Yeah, “Reality” shows are always suspect, but you can’t fake how much you love animals, because they’ll call you on it if you’re a liar.
If I had liked Kristin Mulhall before “Jockeys,” and later after peripherally knowing her through the “magic” of Facebook, I adored her when I saw how she was working the five-year-old ridgling to his first start after a seven-plus month layoff. His works told me she was toning and tightening him to at least a respectable showing. Unlike so many trainers who seem to think a couple of three or four furlong works (one a week, maybe) before a six or longer furlong race will do, Kristin worked him more than once every seven days: three at five furlongs, two at six furlongs, a tightener of three furlongs three days before his first start back, and refreshingly, one at seven furlongs nine days before his comeback race! NOBODY (hardly anybody) works their horses longer than the distance they’re entered to race anymore! Once a common practice among trainers who relied on conditioning their horses, the skill of truly conditioning a horse is practically a lost art. Lucky for “JJJ,” he was blessed with a “real” trainer.
So Sunday afternoon, the outcome of the Robert K. Kerlan Memorial Handicap came when I wasn’t paying attention to the outside world. After dragging ourselves home from the vet hospital and acquainting ourselves with our new “normal,” I finally checked email and was greeted thusly.
“John Johny Jak finished 1st by 1 3/4 lengths, on July 1, 2012, at BETFAIR HOLLYWOOD PARK in Race 7.
Off odds: 7.20”
FINALLY, something to be happy about after a long and sad day! I was so proud of “my” Little Horse That Could! I was so happy for Kristin and his real owners, and for all those who had bet him. I went up to Facebook and thought I’d post a congratulatory note on Kristin’s wall, when I read this:
“Kristen so sorry for you
My thoughts are with you !”
Then I read the comment below this.
“Tragic! Talk about the highs and lows ~”
Further investigation revealed the fabulous high, and the devastating low, that had transpired in less than a minute. And there you have the hardest part of being a fan of horseracing, and particularly a direct participant. Those lows that come to us all, frequently with little or no warning. It’s one thing to be a big fan of a horse and feel terrible for its connections when something terrible happens, but it’s another when that horse isn’t just part of your barn or your training stats, but something akin to your own child. A lot of people don’t understand that about the people working on the backside of a racetrack. There is a tendency for Frontside race fans to assume that everyone on the backside is in it for the money and horses are merely the commodity used to collect it. The truth is there are thousands of people working with racehorses that treat those horses better than their own kids, or their horses are their kids! We cry unashamedly when we lose one of these beautiful souls who almost always give us everything they have, because they love the game as much as we do. We mourn and grieve. It’s not about the money.
In the days since the decision to save “JJJ” from further pain and suffering was made by his loving owners Roo and Juliana Kretz, hundreds of posts and comments have been made on Kristin’s Facebook wall expressing their deep condolences for all involved, and repeatedly stating how much Kristin loves all her horses, regardless of class level. It’s not about the money.
So, still on the unwanted roller coaster, I fight back tears for the pain of a loss of somebody special. Quinne was special. Johny was special. While relieved that neither is suffering, I am probably most sad for the enormous gap felt by we, their caretakers, when animals like these are lost, whether to advanced age or the unexpected. In the case of the Kretzes and their horse, I know how I’d feel if I lost one of my horses, and how much more so if it was a horse who had brought me so many “highs,” as Johny brought them. You can ask Roo and Juliana Kretz, Kristin Mulhall, and anyone working in her barn. It’s not about the money.