I’m among those who rooted wholeheartedly for Paynter, and rode the emotional roller coaster throughout his five arduous months of recovery, and I agree with the selection by the racing public. But I can’t call it my all-time favorite.
Recalling all of the past 13 Moment of the Year winners, I have to go with Drosslemeyer’s big Breeders’ Cup upset, capping off a Ladies Classic-Classic double for trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith in 2011..
It’s purely selfish: I bet on the big chestnut to win, even though he hadn’t done much of anything since his Belmont victory the year before. My fingers had been singed at the windows all that weekend, and that one wager on Drosslemeyer made me whole for two days of Breeders’ Cup.
There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Drosslemeyer.
Over the years there have been moments far more emotional, of course, and significantly better at capturing the majesty of the sport and epitomizing why Thoroughbred racing is the great game.
Could you ever forget the gut-wrenching and heart-breaking scene involving Charismatic and jockey Chris Antley following the 1999 Belmont Stakes?
At the time I was the communications director at Rockingham Park and had left the track after a day of live racing to join my ex at a local bar and watch the race on network television. When Charismatic, who was surely going to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed, broke down inside the eighth pole and faded to finish third, the sight of Antley heroically jumping off and holding the horse’s badly broken leg was so tender and caring that I cried.
Then I got sick to my stomach because it was apparent that most of the guys in the bar only seemed to care that the 2-1 favorite wasn’t going to pay off. They were actually angry with Charismatic.
I’m glad that Antley saved the horse’s life and still sad that the talented jockey couldn’t save his own.
In 2006, the voting public chose Barbaro’s gallant struggle to recover from his catastrophic Preakness injury. Tragically, he couldn’t beat the complications of laminitis as Paynter did. The Barbaro story is a worthy recipient of the award and another that still makes me teary every time I think of this wonderful race horse.
Am I sentimental, with a tendency to over-dramatize? When it comes to the suffering of a Thoroughbred and the resulting grief and overwhelming sadness experienced by those who around love them, you betcha.
For me, ranked among the very best are those magical moments when females beat males in the most important races and on the biggest stages. OK; it’s a girl thing.
The following year, the winning Moment was Rags to Riches’ dramatic and historic victory over Curlin in the Belmont Stakes.
I saw the crowning moment after another live racing day at The Rock, racing home so I could watch the final leg of the Triple Crown on HDTV with no distractions. I could never forget that dramatic stretch duel. It were as though someone had placed a full length mirror on the track as the two chestnuts with the white striped-faces dug in nose-to-nose, ear-to-ear, chest-to-chest and fetlock-to-fetlock all the way down the lane.
I stood in my living room screaming at the TV: “C’mon girl, C’mon girl, C’mon girl,” urging Rags to Riches to get a whisker in front at the wire. As much respect and admiration as I had for Curlin, and would have been rooting for him if the field were all colts and geldings, I had to support the filly.
In 2009, the fans selected the inimitable Zenyatta’s exhilarating late run to beat a world class field of males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I’ll always cherish the moment—from the moment she entered the paddock to the rousing cheers from her hometown racing fans.
I was standing close to the winner’s circle when she came out onto the track, spied the row of photographers snapping her picture, tossed her gorgeous head, bowed her neck, and went right into her patented dance in the post parade.
She was a bigger attraction than any movie star at that moment and she knew it. She proved it by coming from far back to the delight the Southern California crowd.I turned to look up into the stands and gauge the crowd’s reaction. The emotion and outpouring of love from 55,000 people was electric; it was also extraordinary. Grown men had tears streaming down their faces as did I. I never had seen anything like it before or since. What a magnificent moment!
The following year belonged to Zenyatta again. She came from what felt like 50 lengths back with that furious stretch drive down Churchill Downs lane but Blame dug in deep and held her off. Watching from the rail, the collective soul of about 70,000 fans was willing her to keep swallowing up ground with each stride. When she lost--just barely—the sense that oxygen was getting sucked out of the entire track was palpable.
The darkness that descended on Louisville fell on cue, the perfect backdrop for the mood.
And, so, let’s rank my top five NTRA Moments: Drosselmeyer; Zenyatta; Rags to Riches; Charismatic and Paynter. Sitting right at the cusp of the Top Five would have to be Rachel Alexandra's victory over males in Saratoga that helped her earn Horse of the Year recognition.
Can’t wait to see what this year will bring.