Being a believer in the axiom of “life is uncertain; eat dessert first,” I assembled a plate of farmers’ market strawberries, lemon petit fours, and mint chocolate. (I’m Southern and I know it; I don’t need to prove it by sipping a julep, but I do enjoy mint.) I picked my horses and settled in for the 134th Run for the Roses.
The race was exciting, as it always is. I was yelling like Eliza Doolittle at the Ascot. Gorgeous animals, flying manes, pounding hooves, breaking from the outside - this race had everything. The favorite, Big Brown (yep, named for UPS), was the first horse since 1929 to win from the 20th position.
But it was tempered with sadness.
My first choice was Eight Belles – I have a natural affinity for fillies and one of the first Derby races I remember screaming my lungs out at was the 1980 race, which was won by the speedy filly Genuine Risk. Eight Belles ran a whale of a race, coming in second to Big Brown, who practically burned up the Churchill Downs track, winning by 5 lengths. Tragically, Eight Belles broke down just after the finish line, breaking both front ankles – an injury that is not recoverable for a horse; they just won't stay still to let the bones knit. She was euthanized on the track, which is a kindness in such a situation. I never met her, but I know she was valiant – all horses are. In the Book of Job, it is written of the horse that “She paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in her strength . . . she mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted . . . she saith among the trumpets, 'Ha, ha.'" May you be among the trumpets now, Eight Belles.
Amidst the fancy hats and the strains of Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” here’s a sure thing to remember at the betting window: Life is uncertain.
Postscript: I was curious about the name, which seems to me a clever cross between a nautical reference and a Southernism. Knowing that that time is marked on ships by the ringing of a bell, I did a quick bit of research. "Eight bells" signifies the ending of a watch. It is also used to mark the passing of a sailor. When I read that, I got chills.