Monday, May 14, 2012

The Clubhouse Turn

 I recently had the pleasure of indulging in a familiar and much loved annual rite of spring; I spent a happy afternoon watching the Kentucky Derby. Starting early in order to catch the preliminary shows, I felt informed enough to pick a horse, but did not indulge in off track betting. A call to my sister gave me a heads up. She told me her heart belonged to a beautiful, all white steed, named Hansen. We discussed the favorite, and then she added, "There is also a Canadian entry, a long shot, but we should cheer for 'I'll Have Another'," just in case. I told her I liked the name, but was kind of taken with Hansen too. 

Exposure to the world of thoroughbred racing came early for my sister and me. Our paternal grandfather was a breeder and fierce competitor whose love of the sport of kings became legendary.  Up way before dawn he would be at the rails, stopwatch in hand,  figuring the odds and statistics of the track. He theorized that champions come through the bloodlines, not just in horseflesh, but in people as well. He looked for that quality everywhere. The Canadian  world of horse racing has its own version of the Kentucky Derby, namely, the Queen's Plate. The race often includes the presence of royalty and those lucky enough to win when the Queen is present, will ride around the track with her in a splendid carriage. As a child, I used to think the best part of the event had to be in watching my parents and get dressed. Dad wore a light gray top hat and tails. The ladies, turned out in their finery, and as in Kentucky, donned beautiful hats. I remember my mother hand sewing a garland of flowers for my sister to wear in her hair.

There were times as a child, at our farm in the country, when our old crank style phone would clang in the front hall and we would listen for our special ring, as we were on a party line. When my father said, “We'll be right over,” we kids would start jumping up and down. His words signaled the birth of a beautiful colt, or filly and we would excitedly enter the spotless barn and see a glowing mare nudge her new born to rise up on spindly legs, the chief characteristic of the thoroughbred.  It was on one of these occasions when we found my grandparents arm in arm, peering into the stall.  My grandmother remarked, in reference to the still wet, little filly, “isn't she lovely?” Stricken with cancer, and ill at the time, we were all moved to see her radiant smile. My grandfather, looking at the sight of her, thought his wife had never appeared more beautiful. So he named that horse Jamned Lovely.  As if endowed by a special sort of magic, our beautiful filly went  on to give us the supreme thrill of winning the Queen's Plate, passing a field full of bigger, and stronger looking colts. When she came around the clubhouse turn and the crowd leaped to its collective feet, we knew she had a chance. My emotional grandfather, a widower, at this point, stood, slapped his racing form to the side of his mourning coat and roared, “Come on, come on!”

I am always taken by the stories, not just of the breeders and their skill, but of the trainers and jockeys as well. On Derby day, I  love to see the red roses, the celebration of spring, the time honored tradition of the singing of, 'My Old Kentucky Home'. Horses are noble; there are no two ways about it. They move us with their strength, their beauty and their character. They have moods, they can be persnickety and like us, they are competitive. They inspire great writing too, and many a young girl has been transported to a life long love of horses by reading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and Enid Bagnold's National Velvet. Seabiscuit also comes to mind, telling the tale of a horse that captured the imagination of an entire nation. The stories often involve, grief, heartbreak and with the help of horses, healing and recovery.

In the race, when the horses reach the clubhouse turn, the field has narrowed, the positions are somewhat set and the jockeys who have held these fine creatures back, up until this point, will let out the reins, give them a few taps with the stick and let them show their stuff. On Derby day 2012, it was the Canadian entry who took the lead down the stretch. Challengers poured on the speed, but they could not quite catch, 'I'll Have Another.' Jockey, Mario Gutierrez wept with joy from the finish line to the moment when his mount became blanketed in red roses.

I think of the clubhouse turn when writing a novel. The last third of the book requires that level of inspiration and speed. It also serves as a milestone in life: when you round that bend, you go into your true power. Ideally, it should spark the same level of excitement.

Now, on to the Preakness.

I am so thrilled to add this update. 'I'll Have Another,' in a flat out race to the wire, won the 137th running of the Preakness today.


Jennifer Rova said...

Your writing always amazes and delights me. How is she going to turn a Kentucky Derby into something to do with writing or ice skating and writing. You manage to do it every time but not before giving us a wonderful story. I can see the love between your grandmother and a filly and your grandparents for each other by your words. Your writing flows so nicely. I look forward to your posts.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

I agree with Jennifer Rova's comment. Lovely post, Liz !

elizabethbrinton said...

Thank you so much. I know, it does seem to be a stretch, no pun intended, to talk about the Derby and tie it to writing. I have to confess that I simply have to stick to what I love. Passion inspires me, so I tend to write about what brings me to my feet!

Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Thank you, Liz, for this wonderful post. Also a horse lover from childhood, I enjoy the horse stories. One lesser-known book I enjoyed was "Chosen by a Horse" by Susan Richards, a memoir of how a broken horse fixed a broken heart.

elizabethbrinton said...


I'll Have Another was scratched from the Kentucky Derby due to a tendon injury. Recent news indicates that this wonderful horse has been sold to a stud farm in Japan.

Anonymous said...

People don hats, they don't dawn them. Some writer.

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

This is a point well taken. Thank you for alerting me to the error.