Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Guest Post: A 'Dream' Encounter

--Carly Silver

   Like every other horse racing fan, I rejoiced at the birth of the Chosen One, the Savior of Equine-
kind: Jess's Dream. Born Jan. 22, 2012, the Curlin--Rachel Alexandra colt carries some of the best genetics possible in today's world. The product of two Horses of the Year (to be fair, Curlin earned that honor twice), Jess's Dream also carries the name of his sire and dam's mutual owner, the late Jess Jackson. With all of these high hopes, Jess's Dream has a lot riding on his withers.
Jess's Dream
   During my annual trip to Saratoga last week, I spent much of my trip pounding the racetrack pavement. Moving from the press box to the rail and back again--in between admiring glances at retiring announcer Tom Durkin's brightly-colored attire--I soaked up every dusty molecule of track life. But a Saratoga summer wouldn't be complete without seeing the horses themselves.
   Doing my best to blend in with dark sneakers, jeans, and a Saratoga cap, I made my way to the backstretch. I began in one barn where a kind groom invited me in after I explained I just wanted to admire his horses. A bright chestnut with a slender white blaze contentedly munched his hay, while a stunning gray filly, whose Arabian ancestry showed through in the delicacy of her face and arched neck, submitted to gentle forehead scratches.
   When I wandered a bit more, I found myself at a particularly quiet shed row. Peeping into two freestanding stalls, I saw a pretty bay filly who quirked her ears forward at my approach. The groom at that stable told me quietly whose stable this was. Though I had to strain my ears to hear him, I eventually heard the magic words: "Kiaran McLaughlin."
   For a racing fan, this was like discovering the Holy Grail. McLaughlin has some of the pre-eminent horses in the world in his stable, as well as the most beautifully bred runners this side of Keeneland. Besides Stonestreet Stables of Jackson's widow, Barbara Banke, his other owners include the likes of Darley/Godolphin and Shadwell Stable. But perhaps the most exciting horse in his barn is a Stonestreet 2-year-old--the aforementioned Jess's Dream.
   I knew that Jess's Dream was stabled at Saratoga, but I wasn't sure if His Royal Highness was currently receiving visitors. After all, I was a huge fan of both his mom and dad, but let's be honest, who wasn't? That didn't mean that Jess would grant me an audience. The groom, thankfully, said I could say a quick hello to the colt, but I'd have to remain clear of his teeth. Like most other youngsters, he had a habit of nipping, and the last thing I wanted was to end up on the wrong end of a Thoroughbred's teeth, although getting a bad bite from the son of two champions would definitely be a story to tell in the emergency room.
   Like most other horses in the McLaughlin barn, Jess's Dream had a simple brass nameplate with his name and pedigree on it. Was it my imagination, though, or was his burnished extra brightly? Or maybe it glowed from within from all the potential future Eclipse Awards looming on his horizon. Either way, there was one handsome young man in that stall.
   Keeping the groom's advice in the back of my mind, I avoided Jess's teeth as he flung his head back and forth. I crept within speaking distance, talking in a soothing voice as I looked him up and down. He's an imposing colt, but his brawny good looks don't signify a lack of brains. Jess kept a wary eye on me as I stood nearby.
   "Do you know who you are?" I said quietly. "Your mom and dad were champions, you know. That's a lot of weight to carry. And that's not even counting the ones the handicappers put on you." Jess didn't seem to care, though. Maybe, like his sire, he'd grow up to be a top older horse who could shoulder heavy weights while taking on the best of two different crops. Either way, the statuesque bay exhibited every sign of a horse who knew he's something special.
   At one point, the statuesque bay with a small white star stopped shifting about his stall for a moment or two. He gave me a look that said, "Yes, I'm aware of who my parents are. Thanks for being the umpteenth person to remind me. And just watch me run, coming soon to a track near you!" Though I could tell he hadn't yet filled out completely or matured mentally, his beautiful lines and intelligent eyes indicated that he had the potential to be a stellar individual.
   Smiling, I shuffled off back to the track. I was just another in a long line of humans who would dote on Jess, I was sure, but maybe I could be one of the few to say they met him way back when…before Jess's Dream became a reality.

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