by cheri sabraw
Today in Louisville, Kentucky, the bell will scream and twenty thoroughbreds will free themselves in stunning locomotion from their forced imprisionment in the steel rectangle of the starting gate.
Their chests and forelegs will lurch forward, powered by two of the most powerful hind quarters in the animal kingdom.
Ears pricked, they wait in compressed captivity for the sound of the bell and the rumble of the crowd. Once free to thunder down the soft dirt track in a detonation of fire, they pin their ears back to their tucked heads and flare their nostrils in an effort to suck down the oxygen which must nourish their lungs and lubricate their brains for one mile and a quarter.
Those with blinkers see only what lies ahead. For the one with the most endurance and heart, that view will open like a vast prairie land laden with clover and sweet grass.
For those without blinkers, the sights to their right and left will be a familiar Pavlovian roar of thunder, crash of leather, jostle of bumps, and rhythm of stride as they settle into a position and feel the strategy on their backs.
The traffic jam of the starting gate will fade and the speedsters will set the pace, some by strategic trainer design in order to burn out the favorites.
In the back stretch they enter a house of mirrors where, to the fans without binoculars, they do indeed stretch and elongate into a Pegasus herd with noses, ears, necks, backs, rider, rumps, and tails on the same horizontal line.
The weaker horses fade back and it is here, at the end of the backstretch, that the trainers’ grand designs and tactics reveal themselves. We see a chestnut torpedo launching itself in the middle of mass: it lurches forward and forward and challenges the black one with heart and courage.
In the end, two or three race horses rush down the home stretch. On one, the bay creature with the blinkers, a thin whip will sting his backside to remind him to stay focused, lengthen his nose, pound the ground, and run for his life, even though his heart is bursting with blood and hormones.
The one–the Swaps, the Carry Backs, the Northern Dancers, the Man o’ Wars, the Seabiscuits, the Affirmeds, and the greatest of all–the Secretariats, will cross under the wire in a beautiful blur of the Sport of Kings.
Today is the Kentucky Derby.