Moonist, California Chrome, and contagious enthusiasm

Earlier this morning, José Contreras tweeted that he was finding it hard to compare the loss of dominant quarter horse Moonist to something in the Thoroughbred world.

Ask ten people, you’d probably get ten different answers.  Ask me?  The quarter horse world losing Moonist last night would be like the Thoroughbred world losing California Chrome.

Plenty of comparisons between the two can be drawn on the surface.  They’re both flashy California-bred five-year-olds who have only gotten faster and stronger with age.  They both run — and win — against the best of their breed.  They are both linked to Los Alamitos: California Chrome has trained there, Moonist both trained and raced there.

But, more than anything?  Both Moonist and California Chrome are horses who cause a groundswell of enthusiasm, who compel people to go out of their way to watch them.

In the Thoroughbred world, people who were not devoted racing fans became fervent Chromies.  They followed his journey from modest California beginnings to the Kentucky Derby and beyond.  Some have branched out to following more horses; others have remained singly devoted to Chrome.  Either way, California Chrome has earned legions of fans who watch him, cheer him on, and follow his every move.

Moonist, among the quarters, has a similar effect.  I know he did on me.

I had never watched a quarter horse race in my life until the fall of 2014.  My Twitter feed, usually so full of Thoroughbred chatter, had been loudly abuzz about Moonist for a while.  I usually tuned it out: what would a route race junkie like me enjoy about a race that only lasted a few hundred yards?

Finally, curiosity got the best of me.  I turned on Los Al to watch him in the PCQHRA Breeders Derby.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, other than a very short horse race, but I had to see this Moonist guy for myself.

By the time he crossed the wire, I was flabbergasted.  In a race that short, how could a horse win by open lengths?  But, he did, and the replay confirmed it.  Moonist was one fast horse.

Since then, Thoroughbred racing has remained my major focus, but I’ve learned a bit about quarter horse racing.  I’ve watched it, tried handicapping it, played in a few quarter horse handicapping contests.  Though that has been occasional, irregular over the last year and a half…the one constant was Moonist.  If I found out he was running, I was watching quarters that night.

Based on the folks I follow on Twitter, I couldn’t have been the only one.  There is always some chatter about quarter horses from the die-hards, but never as much talk or excitement as when Moonist passed the entry box.  The way that enthusiasm was contagious, the way it swelled from people, from circles of people, who hardly ever talked about quarter horses at any other time?  It is transcendent in a way I cannot compare to any modern Thoroughbred other than California Chrome.

Rest in peace, Moonist.  I will never forget you, or the enthusiasm you brought out in so many of us.

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