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October 21, 2010

I LOVE horse racing.

I know – odd type of hobby. This came from my dad, who back in the day, drove a cab, drank heavily, and spent every Sunday betting the ponies. I only saw him on weekends since my parents were divorced, and I tagged along for some quality father/daughter time.

Our day usually consisted of chain smoking in OTB (yes, you were able to smoke INSIDE then!). Pencils tucked behind the ear, racing booklets underneath our arms, he taught me the basic principles of horse racing and horse betting. Glamorous, no. Fascinating, YES.

I learned about breeding, jockeys and trainers. I learned the differences between tracks, turf or dirt, and could narrow down the odds of who would win on a sloppy track in the rain. I learned to trust my gut if I saw a horse I liked, and if a family name came up on the list, I always bet it. Every August, we travelled to Saratoga Springs and immersed ourselves in the sport. As onlookers strode by dressed up with pretty hats, munching on the variety of food offered, my father and I sat on a hard bench by the rail in the hot sun and shared a pretzel and lemonade for our only meal. All of our concentration, time and energy was taken up by plotting and betting on the next race.

I learned many important things on those Sundays by listening to my father.  But the most valuable lesson was simple.

It’s all about heart.

Handicappers can plot a race by using a number of statistics – mostly from the breeding. But a horse with a heart and soul longing to win will always beat the numbers.

The story of Secretariat was inspiring on many different levels. First, the horse itself had the heart of a champion. He loved to run, needed to win, and this quality was bred deep into his soul. Second, his owner was a woman who had the same heart. A housewife with children, she stepped away from society’s expectations to follow her dream. She never apologized for it. She felt guilty, I know as a fellow mom how guilty she probably felt all the time, but she believed her horse was special and could win. She hoped her family would back her, but took the chance they wouldn’t. Every man told her it was impossible. With millions of dollars at stake, she went toe to toe with the elite circle of men who controlled the industry.

But they couldn’t control her.

And they couldn’t control Secretariat.

Is this a post about hear me roar, I am woman? No, not this time. This is simply the acknowledgement of our need to pursue our dreams and follow our gut, despite the odds. Despite hearing everyone say “You can’t do that!” To learn to dig deep within our souls and push for more – to pursue greatness.  Will we get there? The odds say no. But sometimes you beat the odds and you never know until you go for it.

Secretariat went on to win the Triple Crown and still holds the record for time in the Belmont.

We need to hold to this principle: as writers, as moms, as individuals.

Writers get rejected on a consistent basis. We are told the project we put our blood and guts into is not good enough. We keep writing and try again. And again. Always with the possibility of greatness.

Mothers grow an actual human being in their bodies, push them out and into the world, and are expected to do everything right with raising this child. We will make many mistakes. We will hurt our children, not meaning to. We will mess up and feel hopeless and struggle with our constant mantra: “Are we failures?” Yes, we get up every day and make them breakfast, and dry their tears, dress them and bathe them and tuck them in at night. We look for joy in the endless details of child rearing. The job will never end and we will rarely be told how good we are at it. But we persevere and go for the gold.  And sometimes we do it again. And again.

I rather regret the things I tried and failed at. I rather be like Secretariat and end up in the winner’s circle.

Wouldn’t you?


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  1. I like the connections you made – especially cool that you got to hang out with your dad at the racetrack. I know so many people today balk at things like that, but it is a unique experience and it brought you fond memories; all good 🙂

    • jennifer121 says:

      Thanks, Stephanie, so nice to see you here! And yes, it was definitely a strange experience hanging out with the cabbies at OTB – but honestly – I believe looking at life from all angles gives us a richer experience. Thanks again for the insight.

  2. Something about horses and riding that seems so glamorous to me. Guess that’s why I love Regencies and such. I think this is a movie that I’ll wait for on TV, though. Although I liked that one with Toby Maguire a few years ago, the name of which is now escaping me!

    • jennifer121 says:

      Hi Taryn,
      Yes, I agree, the horse business is very glamorous and I love reading about it. And that movie was Seabiscuit – another all time favorite of mine about heart!

  3. Nice piece of writing. You are in the winner’s circle. You have published books.

  4. Wendy Marcus says:

    Do Not Listen to the Naysayers! YOU CAN DO IT! Maybe the reason Secretariat was so successful is because she is a horse and couldn’t understand all the people saying she couldn’t do something. She just went about her business and did it!

  5. Regina Richards says:

    Great post, Jen. Just the shot of encouragement I needed today. I’m off to the races, er, I mean the writing. Thanks!

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