In his most recent post at The Pedigree Curmudgeon, John Sparkman asks readers about the experiences that brought them to racing, which most of us think of as hobby, unrelenting fun, avocation, passion, entertainment, or obsession.
The path that led me to racing began early. After a dash of earlier exposure to the sport, the 1970 Triple Crown really caught my attention. Holding it was the impressive part at that age, but the combination of a continuing narrative, a long history with some exotic elements, and a lot of beautiful horses made the sport something I came back to repeatedly.
Year by year, my understanding of racing grew, and as I understood more about the sport, my appreciation of it increased.
There were two tremendous stories in the Triple Crown of 1970 that held my interest. The story that everyone knew in the months leading to the Kentucky Derby was that the great trainer Hirsch Jacobs had mated two of his greatest horses — Affectionately and Hail to Reason — to produce the colt Personality.
Adding to the drama, Jacobs had died before the colt had realized his potential, but his son was training both Personality and the previous year’s Futurity Stakes winner High Echelon with high hopes of making the classics. That’s a sufficiently sentimental story to attract the attention of any youngster.
But it wasn’t just a softly told tale. The two colts were proving themselves the real thing on the racetrack. Of the two, Personality seemed to be progressing better in that April 40 years ago. For the Wood Memorial, Personality ran his best race to date, winning his first stakes and making the Jacobs entry the second favorite in the Kentucky Derby.
The classic itself was a disaster for Personality, who plugged around the muddy (officially good) track to finish eighth. But his stablemate High Echelon, after running last for more than half the race, came along with a game finish to take third, only a half-length behind Derby favorite My Dad George.
The winner was a tidy little chestnut colt named Dust Commander, who is the second story of the Triple Crown and will be covered in more detail in my next post.
Personality came back in the Preakness to win nicely. Among the boys and girls I’d interested in my dawning obsession, Personality had not been considered up to snuff following his dismal defeat in the Derby. For whatever youthful reason, I had held firm to my earlier selection, and the bay colt provided me with the elation of victory that only I had expected.
When Personality was scratched from the Belmont, I was almost resigned to expect nothing of interest, but his stablemate High Echelon was there instead. Trailing early once more, the gray splashed through the slop at Belmont Park on a very gray day to win the longest classic and set the seal on the my connection with the most exciting sport in the world.