Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bienvenue, Peb!

   Sometimes, when the economic news in our industry is bad, and the PR is bad, and I'm having a bad day at the TDN offices, I find it helpful to take a deep breath, close my eyes, and remember what it was that I initially loved about this industry so much, anyway.
   For me, the same few things usually come to mind. The joy of going to Belmont Park as a teenager with eight hard-earned dollars, and coming home with twelve. I picture the Affirmed-Alydar Belmont. Steve Cauthen. An afternoon spent by the Saratoga paddock. And stopping on the way to high school to buy the Daily Racing Form and seeing what Peb had drawn for that day's Equine Comedy.
   When I was about 16, I took a tour of the Saratoga backstretch in one of those trams you always see trolling around at the Spa. The highlight of it, for me, was the book of Peb's sketches they gave you at the end of it. I can still see it to this day; printed in landscape, with a brown glossy cover, full of sketches that brought the horses to life.
   I've always humanized animals in my mind's eye; have always imagined what they were thinking and feeling, pictured them as ironic, funny, sarcastic. Steve Crist used to tease me, and say, `You know what they're thinking, Sue? `Da dum dum dum. Da dum dum dum.'
   But Peb? Peb got it. Peb knew what horses were secretly thinking, and it was way more clever than I had even imagined. We were kindred spirits, I felt (only he was really talented, and I was, well, not.)
   Adding to my love of Peb was the fact that I was (and am) a total Francophile. My dad was a French teacher, and I studied the language all through grammar school and high school, and, having no chance to actually be sent to France on my dad's high school teacher's salary, settled for making it my major in college.

Peb: a self-portrait.

   But two years in a row, I had an exchange student from France, Sophie, and if she had very little interest in learning English, I was more than happy to speak French with her all day long, copying her accent and learning idiomatic expressions. It was the peak of my French abilities in life, and it was good timing, too.
   She loved the racetrack, and we spent a couple of weeks at Saratoga, where one day, we happened to walk past Peb and his son, Remi, who were, naturally, speaking French with one another. Sophie turned and replied to something Remi had said, and we all struck up a conversation in French. Near the end of our chat, Peb turned to me and asked, "When are you going back home to France?" I said, "I'm not from France. I'm from Connecticut." He was somewhat confused and said, "But you live now in France?" I told him I had never even been to France, but had learned the language in school. He genuinely appeared shocked that it wasn't my native language. To this day, I think it's the nicest compliment anyone has ever paid me. (Hearing me speak now, he probably wonders how he ever made such a mistake.)
   So imagine my delight to be told by my co-publisher, Barry Weisbord, a few months ago that Peb was interested in working with the TDN, and I was to bring that to fruition. In case you missed it, his take on the Arizona symposium, his first sketch in the TDN, is on page 6 in the Wednesday, Dec. 7 edition.

Eric Beitia rode Salduci to Pierre Bellocq Jr.'s first win as a
trainer, but his real victory was being sketched by Peb.
Peb's other son, Remi, is holding the horse,
with Peb to his left.

   Talking to him and working out the details over the past few months has been nothing short of one of the greatest privileges I've ever had in racing. In one of our earliest conversations, I told him that when I was 17 or so, I had a friend, Eric Beitia, who had come from a poor childhood in Panama to try to make it in New York. He was having some success as an apprentice at Aqueduct, and one day, after he was done riding, I handed him the Daily Racing Form with a sketch that Peb had drawn of him. He sat in the stands for the longest time, staring at the picture, and he finally said that this--being sketched by Peb--much more than any individual victory, was how he knew he had finally made it.
   Peb was moved by the story; Eric was tragically killed a few years later by a hitchhiker looking to steal his car, and Peb told me that he had done the sketch when Eric had ridden Salduci for his son, Pierre, giving him his first win as a trainer. He sent me the win photo.
   Racing's troubles are well-documented. But it has its marvelous aspects, as well. And if you're making a list of things that are great about racing, in my mind, Peb sits comfortably near the top of that list. At 84 years old, he's a treasure.
   The TDN is immeasurably proud to bring our audience his work, and I am personally honored to have a small role in letting the imaginations of his horses be heard once again.

1 comment:

Bradley Weisbord said...

Great blog Sue. I agree love his work!