Legacy of horseracing love put out to pasture

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 1999, Debra Lo Guercio, all rights reserved

     What's supposed to happen: You expose your child to your own childhood experiences and watch her face light up with a legacy of joy passed down from generation to generation.

      What actually happens: You pump up enthusiasm for said activity like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and your child yawns and grumbles, "Can we go home now?"

      So it was when I took my daughter to the horse races, just as my mother had with me, and her mother before her and so on and so on. The whole prospect was painfully uninteresting to her, and had to be sweetened with a visit to the State Fair. The child has a future in industrial negotiations.

      She also negotiated for a trip to the mall on the way home and the promise that she'd only have to sit through one race.

      Deal. I just knew that once she got there, she'd be hooked. Horseracing is in our genes. Hers just needed to be activated. And at long last, I'd have someone to share my horseracing passion with.

      Ah, the memories. My parents spent every free moment they could squeeze from their busy schedules at the track, and I was always in tow. And I loved every minute.

      True story: I learned to read from the Daily Racing Form, not "Goodnight, Moon." I could read "exacta" and "handicap" long before "house" and "car."

      Of course, my peculiar early knowledge of horseracing raised some eyebrows early on, like when the teacher would read to the class, "See Spot run" and I'd ask, "Fast track or sloppy?"

      Despite stories of my racetrack youth, my daughter was purely unimpressed, as only a teenager can be. This little excursion was merely a means to an end, just a pit-stop on the way to The Gap.

      We strolled around the fair for a bit, then headed for the track. I found just the right spot by the paddock to watch the horses being led around before the race.

      Just as I'd remembered it, the paddock was covered with shredded cedar. Oh, that scent. It carried me back 30 years. I closed my eyes and I was 12 years old again, my mother beside me, scribbling notes in her racing form and beaming with delight as she examined the prancing fillies.

      I opened my eyes, expecting matching enthusiasm on my daughter's face, but discovered only disgust.

      "It stinks," she said with a wrinkled nose.

      What do you mean — it smells wonderful! It smells like the track!

      "It smells like horse poop."

      Funny little quirk about horse people. We can't smell horse manure. Either it's a genetic defect or the years of mucking stalls just burns out our olfactory receptors.

      I redirected her attention to the horses. Look how beautiful and fit they are. You compare each one -- how it walks and behaves, whether its eyes are bright and shiny or white-ringed with anxiety, note if it's getting foamy with sweat, check to see if its legs are bandaged. It's exciting!

      "It's boring."

      Maybe the challenge angle would capture her interest: See, you bet on the horse you like best and if it wins, you get money back. That sparked her up. Money and malls go hand in hand. She scanned the horses as they went by.

      "I like that one," she said, pointing to the Number 2 horse. "It has a checkerboard pattern on its rump."

      That was as good a method of handicapping as any, particularly since there was no point investing in a racing form to watch just one race. Without benefit of a heap of information to pore over, like bloodlines and workout times and closing speeds, we'd have to rely on signs from the universe, what my mother called "hunches."

      Every racing fan has her or his favorite hunch. For some, it's the longest tail. For others, it's four white socks. My personal favorites are a white bridle and (how do we say this delicately) a horse that relieves itself when it goes by in the post parade before the race. Less load to carry, you see. Number Two had both. Between that and the checkerboard, I knew the racing gods were speaking to me.

      We placed $2 on the Two Horse to win and stationed ourselves at the rail. Within moments, the horses were in the starting gate. The doors snapped open, the announcer exclaimed "They're off!" and a blur of color burst forth.

      The front runners battled mightily for the lead, flying down the backstretch and around the far turn, hooves and dirt flying, the roar of the crowd building to a cacophonous crescendo as the horses thundered down the homestretch toward the finish line.

      I was astonished as Number Two streaked across the finish line several lengths in front. That almost never happens.

      We cashed in the ticket and my daughter asked me enthusiastically how much we won. I was overjoyed: $1.80. Wowie! Usually you only get about 60 cents!

      She shot me that unmistakable "You retard" glare.

      "We went through all this for $1.80? That's great, Mom. Just great."

      Oh come on, it's not about the money, it's about the thrill and the challenge and the excitement; the horses, the jockeys, the people; the sights, the sounds. That's what horseracing's all about!

      "Can we go to the mall now?"

      The earthquake registered that day was generated by her grandmother, great-grandmother and all the great-greats before them simultaneously rolling over in their graves.