Frank Mitchell's recent historical series prodded me into exploring my own historical wetware and software. There's enough stories in there to fill several books....but since the thought of publishing books of any sort, much less horse books, is enough to reduce strong men to crying for mommy these days, we all know that's not going to happen.
The first horse race I can remember seeing on TV is the 1955 Kentucky Derby. My family had acquired our first television earlier that year and my older sister and I had been fighting over which grainy, blurry shows to watch ever since. I don't know how I won that battle, but I remember Swaps beating Nashua.....not that it meant much to an eight-year-old.
By the time the 1957 Derby rolled around, however, I'd inhaled Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, and a naive Tennessee farm boy was in love with the glamor of horse racing. I had started following racing as well as one could in the Nashville Tennessean--in other words, considerably better than one can now in the same newspaper--and I knew who Bold Ruler and *Gallant Man were. The big, almost black Bold Ruler was surely far closer in appearance to Farley's fictional hero than the diminutive *Gallant Man, but it was the Irish colt's dramatic charge from behind that set the hook in my heart for Thoroughbred racing. *Gallant Man's 8-length Belmont victory in record time a few weeks later established a preference for come-from-behind runners that took years to eradicate.
Ten years later when I made it to Lexington for the first time, Bold Ruler was well established as the Lord of Speed, and, excellent stallion though he was, *Gallant Man was never going to catch him again. I know I took pictures of both horses with my trusty Kodak, but the shot of *Gallant Man has disappeared into the crack of time.
The picture of Bold Ruler above, taken at Claiborne in 1967, does not do him justice. He had a look about him that I have often seen in his descendants that is almost indefinable. It's something about the ears and an airy way of going that keeps showing up over and over again.
I've always been a curious sort though. What is your earliest memory of racing, and what did it mean to you?