By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi
Growing up, the first Saturday in May was sacrosanct to my late Mama. For the first Saturday in May meant thundering hooves at the running of the Kentucky Derby. While we cheered on the magnificent thoroughbreds from our living room, the anticipation of which steed would win was palpable even in our corner of the Midwest. As much as my beloved Mama adored watching Saturday college football, her ardor for the Kentucky Derby was unequalled.
Mama, my brother, and I were riveted to the television screen when Secretariat galloped into Kentucky Derby history by finishing the race in 1:59 2/5, a record that remains unbroken. Secretariat went on to win the Triple Crown in 1973. I can still see that huge, red chestnut horse thundering down the 1-1/4 mile track at Churchill Downs to victory, his three white socks and white star blaze looming large in the television screen. Secretariat had an iron-like body, a drive, coupled with a presence that seemed of another world, an unequaled anomaly. My family thought Secretariat the Gold Standard of Horses, and indeed he was. He embodied hubris, and deservedly so, for he was magnificent.
Until Barbaro appeared at the Kentucky Derby, I had not been enamored of a horse since the legendary Secretariat. However, there was something about Barbaro – the fire in his eye that was simultaneously sweet and noble – gave me pause. Barbaro won the Derby in 2006 by 6-1/2 lengths, leaving his competitors in the dust, literally. Tragically, two weeks later during the Preakness Stakes, his left hind leg shattered. He was euthanized in January 2007 due to the spread of laminitis, this after he had heroically endured at least six surgeries. The hope had been that Barbaro would live out his life tranquilly on a bucolic horse farm. After Barbaro’s death, I could not watch the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro’s heartbreaking injury and subsequent death reverberated deeply within me.
Yet today I will once again view the Kentucky Derby at 6:24 p.m., (EST), on NBC. Dortmund is the favorite, but I’ll be thinking of Secretariat and of Barbaro as I cheer today’s Derby thoroughbreds.
Ciao for now.