There are at least as many reasons to follow a horse as there are people who come to the racetrack. Most of those reasons are happy ones. Their name makes you laugh. You own the horse, or your friend does. They have a funny little spot on their nose. They gave you a cute little look, right in the eyes, from the post parade one day. You followed their sire, their dam, their sibling.
But, not every reason for following a horse is happy.
Whenever a horse I love and follow is lost too soon, there always seems to be another horse inextricably coupled with them who I start to follow. I hope to see the best from them as a way of continuing the legacy of a horse whose future we’ll never get to know.
Those associations happen in different ways. For Diversy Harbor it was Nashoba’s Gold, the grey who kept denying her in graded stakes company during the spring of 2014. For Onlyforyou it was Aurelia’s Belle, who finished gamely behind her in a pair of Kentucky Oaks preps, before finding her best when taken off the dirt.
For Hurta, it was Spectacular Act. Hurta, a shiny, hulking, bay tank, spent almost all his career in Chicago. The more lithe, almost black Spectacular Act was a relative newcomer to Chicago when they met; he had run in New York before 2014. They only ran against each other once, back in December of 2014. It was Hurta’s final race. Spectacular Act fell over him…but he was the lucky one. He got up, the outriders caught him, and Spectacular Act lived to race another day.
Coming into that race, five-year-old Spectacular Act had been winning: three of his last six starts, including the start right before. Seeing him in the PPs afterwards stung: 712 611 – – -. Fell over fallen foe. The next ten times he raced that reminder came printed on the page of past performances. Beyond that, it remained implicit, hidden further back in the running line, still enough to make me mourn a beautiful, gutsy, game life that ended too soon.
As sad as it made me to see Spectacular Act’s name, to see that running line, I hoped he’d win. A few times the following spring, he came close…at least, as close as he’d get for a long time. Third beaten one and a quarter, third beaten three and three quarters, third beaten four, second beaten three and a half. A stone closer, he came on too late, too late, too late.
After that second-place finish in April of 2015, he hit the board in just one of his next 29 starts. Occasionally, he would come running too late. More often, he would not. Even a drop down in circuit, to Fairmount Park, continued a pattern of finishing up the track, beaten double-digit lengths. Each time that happened, my head would hang. I would mourn. I would mourn Hurta, still gone, still in my memory. I would mourn Spectacular Act, still alive, but perhaps not the same since he fell.
In the thirtieth start since his short little streak of hitting the board, on March 17 of this year, Spectacular Act ran his best race in that span…perhaps his best race since his fall 28 months before. He got a wicked pace duel in front of him, thanks to his stablemate Badger Bay revisiting an ancient running style of his, throwing down a speed duel with favoured Paris Pike. Spectacular Act’s style has always had him lagging well off the pace early…but this time, he made a real run down the long stretch. He was third beaten eight lengths — but he had hit the board for the first time since August 2015, and finished a shrinking half-length out of second.
Yesterday, Spectacular Act returned to the races. Once again, both Badger Bay and Paris Pike would be loading into the gate. Hucks Party, a frequent presence on the front end in two-turn races at Presque Isle Downs last summer, also joined the fray.
If Badger Bay sent again? If Paris Pike failed to rate kindly enough? If Hucks Party rushed fast enough to speed his foes along early?
He did, he did, he did.
If Spectacular Act fired again?
He dropped almost two dozen lengths off the pace early. So many times over the last two years that had happened; so many times he had just trailed in. He loped along oblivious to the battle his stablemate encouraged, in which the pair of greys had joined him.
Turning for home, he had regained touch with the field. Near the three-sixteenths pole, he sliced through the field. In the final furlong, he outfinished Lethal. He rolled to a smooth length and a quarter victory.
My head hung again. The window, four stories above the racetrack apron, caught my forehead. I gazed out as eight-year-old Spectacular Act galloped back to the stretch and entered a place that had been off limits to him for so long since he fell.
As he walked back around the clubhouse turn, back to the barn, I mourned and I hoped. I mourned Hurta…still gone, still loved, still dearly missed whenever Spectacular Act runs, whenever I look out over Hawthorne’s clubhouse turn. And, I let myself hope…both that Spectacular Act can keep his form from his last two starts for a while, and that once his racing days are over, he’ll have the second life off the track that Hurta never got.