Author: Simon920 PM
Alec's view of his life and how he sees things. This is based on the original books.Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 7,284 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 2 - Published: 05-25-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5086789
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sometimes it's weird being me. I guess everyone thinks that once in a while, but in my case it's true. I mean, seriously. And the oddest thing about it is that the people who are the closest to me haven't seemed to notice.
Maybe that's one of the weirdest things, come to think of it.
So, since this is supposed to be a kind of autobiography, I guess I should start at the beginning.
I'll skip the really early boring stuff no one wants to read, other than to say that I grew up on Long Island, in Queens which is one of the five boroughs of New York City. That makes me a city kid by birth. It also means I grew up practically walking distance to both Belmont and Aqueduct and no, I never went over to either place, at least not till I was riding races. I know the part people are interested in is when Black became part of my life so that's where I'll start.
When I was twelve my parents decided that it would be a good opportunity for me to spend the summer in India with my father's brother, my Uncle George who's a missionary over there. It was terrific; my uncle is an incredible man who works as hard as anyone I've ever met. He helps a tremendous number of people and I was sorry when I had to come back home. I'm not sure if it was actually cheaper for me to take a freighter from India through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal or if it was just another experience my parents thought I'd enjoy, but that was the plan. When the ship, The Drake landed, I was to catch a flight back to New York from Cairo. That was the idea, anyway.
The ship was still being loaded with freight by the time I was on board and I stood on the deck watching, talking with the crew who seemed to look at me as some kind of a mascot. They were, without exception, kind to me and I still think about them. None of them survived. Anyway, I was standing there and from nowhere there was a scream. It was loud, piercing and I'd never heard anything like it and it made me break out in goose bumps. I know that sounds stupid, but it's true.
Four men were trying to drag this horse, a huge black stallion, towards the ship's ramp. The animal was blindfolded with what looked like a tee shirt and was balking and fighting them every inch. At one point the horse reared, coming down and bucking, kicking with his hind legs. He clipped one of the handlers in the head; the man went down, there was a lot of blood and I think there's a good chance he was killed on the spot. Finally, after a long time, they, somehow, got the horse up the ramp and onto the deck, forcing him into a jury-rigged stall on the main deck.
The Captain, who seemed to not know anything about this, was angry and there was an argument which ended with the Captain pocketing a roll of bills; I'm not criticizing the man, he was good to me and his choices were his own. The horse had only been on the ship because he was being stolen, though I didn't know that at the time. It came out later that the captain had taken a large bribe to ferry him to Cairo without his papers.
That was about what I'd figured; I may have been twelve, but it was apparent that the horse was probably stolen and was being illegally shipped out. Years later I found out how that all happened and met the owner, but I'll get to that later.
The trip was uneventful, quickly falling into a routine without much happening but the horse fascinated me; he was and is a magnificent animal and he intrigued me. He wasn't broken r even tames at that point; he was wild and I think I fell a little in love with him and his spirit then and there. The next day I took some sugar cubes from the dining room and put them on the edge of the door to the crate/stall he was in. They'd disappear and I'd replace them. It was something to do and I spent a lot of my time hanging around his crate/stall.
The third night out we were caught by what I believe was an unexpected storm—maybe the radar was out, maybe someone didn't pay attention to the weather reports and warnings, I don't know. I do know that I woke up when I was thrown out of bed sometime after midnight and landed in the chaos of the ship trying to survive the enormous waves. When I could make my way on deck—the ship was heaving, pitching, making it almost impossible to walk—the power failed and it was pitch black, impossible to see, with salt spray and rain wind driven so hard it hurt. It was loud, the wind was screaming—I've never heard wind make a sound like that before or since—the waves were crashing over the deck, the entire contents of the ship was shifting, slamming into bulkheads, people were shouting and yelling at one another and the horse was shrilling. By the time I made my way to the main deck there was an on board fire, possibly caused by a lightning strike, which caused an explosion which split the ship and threw me into the water.
Or, I think that was the sequence. It's as close as I can come.
The next part is still hazy to me; I was later told that I was probably in shock.
I was in the water, the storm was still crashing everywhere, the waves were huge, the ship was breaking up and sinking a few yards from me, people were yelling, screaming. I remember trying to get as far away from that as I could, afraid that something (I don't know what but something) would hit me, drag me under. I swam, making almost no progress in the wind and waves. There was another explosion, the ship was gone and the screaming from the other passengers and crew stopped, leaving me alone in the water.
I believed I was going to die but then two—no, three—things happened which saved me.
First, when I'd first been thrown out of my berth I'd grabbed a life jacket from under the bed. I had it in my hand—didn't even know I had it—and the Captain saw me and tied the thing on me.
Next, as I was in the water, looking for anything that might help—a raft, a piece of wreckage, another survivor and not finding anything, I felt something brush past me. I think I freaked—it could have been a shark, a sea monster, part of the ship dragging me down and I panicked but it was just a rope and the rope was tied to Black's halter. I grabbed it, tied it to the life-vest. Why? I'm still not sure but I suspect that subconsciously I may have just not wanted to die alone.
I don't know if Black knew I was trailing along in his wake, he never turned to take a look that I remember but just kept swimming. The storm was still blowing around us so that it was hard to catch a breath of fresh air that wasn't going to fill my lungs with sea water or rain and I was starting to get hypothermic from being in the water all night. Finally, slowly, I began to notice that the wind wasn't blowing quite as hard and eventually, a couple of hours (I think) after dawn, the sky started clearing. The waves were still high, but the sun broke through and the wind pretty much stopped. It made things a lot easier, though I still was sure I'd probably die there.
The horse, by this time I'd begun to think of him as 'The Black', kept swimming, pulling me somewhere and it seemed like we were going with the current, though I could be wrong about that. I don't know if he had any idea what direction to head but finally, late the next afternoon, we came ashore on a small island.
No one else survived the sinking. Everyone else burned, died in the explosion, drowned or died of exposure.
I saw the island a short time before we were in shallow enough water to stand; my perspective from water level didn't let me see all that much but then, there it was; sand, palm trees, some rocky outcroppings. It was a picture perfect vision of a deserted desert island, all it was missing was a couple of desperate castaways and there we were.
The first thing he did when he could get his feet under him was to wade ashore through the low surf. That was when I guess he could feel me dragging behind him and he took off, pulling me along the sand. I realized that I'd be killed unless I could get free and tried to untie the rope but the knot had swollen in the water and it wasn't possible, Then the third piece of luck clicked in. My uncle had given me a pocketknife as a parting present when I left India and it was still—somehow—in my pocket. The blade was sharp and I managed to cut the rope, I still have some scars from that tow, though.
Black and I spent about three months on that island, alone, before we were rescued.
That sounds pretty straightforward, but it wasn't that simple, of course.
For starters, we had to find food and water, not as easy as it sounds when you're used to just hitting up the local supermarket or McDonald's when you're hungry. For another, Black was still completely wild then. I know how people talk about how we have this special bond and all of that, that I can control him and to a degree it's true—now. It wasn't then. He didn't know me, didn't trust me and I kept as far away from him as I could for my own safety.
My being alive is pretty much of a fluke; I knew it then I know it now.
Black found the water the second afternoon we were there. He found a small, very small fresh water spring which supplied just enough water for the two of us. I was drinking that first afternoon—and you have no idea how much you crave water, need it until you don't have any and there's no way to get I and if you don't then you're going to die of thirst. Everyone's been thirsty on a hot summer day, but this is an entirely different reality.
The spring came out of a rock ledge and filled a small pool about the size of a double bed and maybe a foot or two deep. I was lying on my stomach, drinking as much as I could, quenching my thirst and getting the taste of salt out of my mouth from the night and a day I'd spent in the ocean.
I heard the horse moving around that area, heard his hooves, heard his breath but I thought he was far enough away that it wasn't a problem while I kept drinking. He came closer, I could hear him and turned enough to see him but I still pretty much ignored him because of my thirst. He came closer and seemed agitated so I started to move away when he came at me, plunging, whinnying and shrilling. He started rearing, getting closer and closer to me and was finally slamming the ground as hard as he could—or so it seemed to me—about a yard away from my head.
Scared? Oh, yeah.
Finally he stopped and moved a few feet away, watching me as if he was waiting for me to do something. I remember standing up slowly so I wouldn't spook him and saw what had upset him; a snake, or rather the mashed remains of a snake a couple of feet from where I'd been drinking. He'd saved my life twice in two days and I believe to this day that he knew what he was doing when he killed that snake. On some level we both knew that all we had was each other and if we were going to get off the island, or survive while we were on it, we had to work together.
That sounds a bit Hardy Boys or Lassie, but I stand by it.
Next problem; food.
I had the knife which I used as a spear (I'd tied it to a stick) to catch some fish and I knew from school (thank you biology and earth science) that every crab species is edible. But I had to find something for the horse. I tried washing seaweed off in freshwater and he ate some but it was obvious that wasn't doing it for him and so I kept looking, finally finding a large growth of algae on some rocks. I washed and dried that and luckily for both of us it did the trick. He loved it and while we were a long way from fine dining, it kept us from starving.
Shelter. Okay, there wasn't any natural shelter on the island, No caves, no palm trees, no brush. It was pretty barren so all we had was whatever washed up, sort of like 'Castaway'. Unfortunately, there weren't any downed FedEx planes to salvage stuff from so I had to find stuff along the beach to rig something. It was crude but it was shade and kept the rain off—or most of it and that seemed pretty good at that point.
One other thing made a big difference, too—I never really thought that I'd die. When I first went into the water and people were screaming, there was lightning and massive waves and yes, then I was afraid for my life but once we made it to land I never really believed that I'd die. I'm not sure why that is; maybe because I wasn't completely alone with Black there, maybe because I was too young to think I could be killed. I don't know what it was, but I believed eventually I'd make it home and that belief never really wavered.
It also helped that I've always been pretty independent. That helped a lot. I'd never been one of those kids who clung to their parents; they've always encouraged me to go off on my own and that's stood me in good stead.
Feeding Black—and myself—that was a real turning point. Up until then he'd mostly avoided me, but then it was like we turned a corner and were sort of in it together.
There was a kind of symbiosis to it, really. He saved my life by dragging me to the island and I saved his life by finding food for both of us. It took a while, over a month, but eventually we both realized that neither of us had anything to fear from the other and so, of necessity we became allies then friends and, finally, he allowed me to ride him. That took a while and I was thrown more times than I remember; I already knew how to ride horses, but Black is a whole different reality than a gentle hack in the park. I remember being afraid that I could break a bone and knowing that could kill me without any help available, but I still kept climbing on his back until I learned how to ride him. Or rather, he let me ride him is more to the point.
The actual rescue happened when a crude lean-to shelter I'd made for myself out of driftwood and wreckage caught fire. A breeze blew some sparks from my fire—lightning had set fire to some scrub brush after I'd been there for just shy of twelve weeks and a passing ship saw the light from the flames. I might still be there if I hadn't lucked out with that. I refused to just leave Black there alone to die and so the fishermen, against their better judgement, finally agreed to allow me to try to get him on board—no mean feat, actually. I suspect they were afraid that there'd be some kind of repercussions if they left me there to die and didn't want to deal with the police if someone found my body. That was another lucky break for me and then we were pretty much on our way home, though it was almost another month before I was back in my own house again.
People ask me a lot and yes, living on the island was scary but the thing I mainly took away with me, and this may sound stupid, is that it was long there. I know that sounds obvious, but it's the truth. I always believed I'd be rescued, I never doubted it, but it was…long. But then, if it hadn't been so long, almost three months, then I don't know if Black and I would have bonded so tightly; so even those months on the island turned out to be a good thing in a way, too. I don't mean to sound like Pollyanna, but that's the truth.
The other thing about being on a deserted island? Tedium. Wake up, try to find something to eat, get some water. Ride the horse, cool off in the surf, try to catch a fish or crab or something, stoke the fire, sleep, eat, keep an eye on the horizon for a ship, sleep…day after day.
I'd called my parents as soon as I could get to a phone—the boat that rescued us didn't have a working radio— and they were as excited and overwhelmed as you'd expect. Dad choked up, Mom cried and I think I just sputtered random words, finally blurting out the name of my ship and estimated arrival date. But I didn't tell my parents about coming home with a horse; I knew they'd just be happy to see me and would probably accept just about anything at that point but I had no idea how to break the fact of the Black to them. They were completely blindsided and I don't believe they've completely forgiven me for that yet.
So we finally made it home to Queens, New York on another ship—the Black and me. For some reason neither of us was afraid of going by boat again and that was good since there was no way I could have ever found the money to ship Black by air. My family isn't rich now and certainly wasn't back then. We weren't poor, but solid middle class, as such things are measured. My dad is an accountant; my mother's a housewife. We had enough to live on but not a lot left over for extras and air shipping a horse half way around the world was a about as big an extra as you could think of.
My actual homecoming was surprisingly understated, all things considered. My father met the freighter I was on at Port Newark near Newark, New Jersey. Since he didn't know about Black, he hadn't arranged for a horse trailer and I hadn't figured out where I could rent a stall.
The problem was solved when, once again, I simply lucked out. A reporter from the New York Post had somehow heard about me and my homecoming, I think he may have called the house, and he was there on the dock with Dad when I led Black down the gangplank. Jaws dropped and I had this fantasy conversation that went somewhere along the lines of 'He followed me home, can I keep him?'
Joe Davis, the reporter, took charge, made a couple of calls and an hour later there was a horse van pulling up in exchange for an exclusive on my story. Back at the house I was hugged and cried over by both of my parents and gave Joe the bare bones of how I'd spent my summer vacation, with a promise to tell him more the next day.
One thing I have to mention is that I understand what I put my parents through over the years. It wasn't intentional—a shipwreck, a couple of plane crashes, riding and racing injuries (some of them serious).
I'm not a parent but mine have read my published newspaper obituaries twice now and I know it's one of the reasons my mother's hair turned gray when she was in her thirties. I'm an only child, I know my parents had trouble having a kid and had about given up when I came along prematurely. I was given 50-50 odds of surviving then, beat them and have been playing the odds ever since both on and off the track.
It's not that I want to live life in the fast lane or any of that, it's just that it seems the things I do tend to sometimes up end in a place I didn't plan on and I know how hard that is on my family. And I'm genuinely sorry for that and desperately wish there was something I could do to make it easier for them and make the worry go away but unless I go into my father's accounting business, I don't see any way of that happening.
I love racing, love winning races, love horses and everything about them and they're where I want to live my life.
I finally got home, having no idea what 'd do with Black or where I'd be able to keep him—if I could keep him and lucked out yet again when a neighbor let me board Black in his barn just down the street from our house. I didn't really know Henry Daily then, didn't know he was an old race-tracker; a retired jockey and trainer and he knew what I had in the Black, much more than I did.
Like I've said, I've really gotten lucky a lot.
Henry and Clara, his wife, let me use an empty stall there for close to free and even spotted me the first couple of month's food bill. I knew basic horse care—very basic—but Henry took the time to really show me how an animal needs to be treated and handled. He helped me fix up the old fencing surrounding the adjacent field so Black could stretch his legs and essentially held my hand while I figured it all out.
None of this would have happened after I got back to New York without Henry. The races, Satan, the farm, the Triple Crown and all the rest—none of it would exist for me if he hadn't lived across the street and taken an interest. I can't stress this enough; without Henry, none of this would have happened. Aside from him teaching more than should be possible, we're friends and in a lot of ways he's the person I'm closest to. Of course I love my parents and other people in my life, but Henry gets me and I get him. We're on the same page and we speak the same language.
Henry was the one who had the idea of trying to race Black, find if he was even trainable and was the one who called in some favors so that we could take him over to Belmont to try him out and time him. God knows I went along with it, though. Truth be told, after the summer in India, a shipwreck and the island, high school was looking pretty boring.
And that's another thing; going back to school? Yes, weird. Very weird. I'd never been the most popular kid in school. I was small and usually quiet in class. I got good grades and had friends but I just a face I the crowd and not every one knew my name, nor did I know theirs. Suddenly everyone seemed to know me, wanted to talk to me, sit with me in lunch. The teachers made a deal about me in class, there was a special assembly where I talked about what I'd been through and answered questions. It was strange and I suspected that it wouldn't last, that I'd be a one-week wonder and to a large degree I as, but there was still a separateness about me which I learned to finally accept. I didn't like it but the simple fact was that there wasn't anyone I could really relate to and so, while my friends were, and are, still my friends, things had changed and didn't ever go completely back to normal.
Meanwhile, Henry had called in some old favors and broke just about every rule in the book to arrange us sneaking Black into Belmont at two in the morning and got a stopwatch on him while I took him around the track. The first night out he unofficially broke the track record for a mile and a quarter and Henry knew for sure that he was as special as he'd suspected.
Naturally it didn't stay a secret and that's pretty much when the reporters came on board and started stirring up interest in allowing the 'mystery horse' to enter the match race that had already been set between Sun Dancer and Cyclone. A couple of sportswriters came to one of the late night training sessions to see for themselves, were convinced we were for real and gave it a lot of press play. Against their better judgement, the racing association let us enter, expecting us to be no-shows. I was given special permission to ride—you have to be sixteen to race—and the powers that be were happy that the extra publicity would help ticket sales, boost TV viewers and bump up the betting pool.
I just went along for the ride, in a lot of ways. It sounded exciting, I was twelve years old and I believed that my horse could beat anything on four legs.
Then I ran headfirst into real race riders and trainers for the first time—I was in way over my head and I knew it, hoping that I wouldn't make a complete fool out of myself.
Race trackers are often nice people but they're tough, they have to be. The jocks I was riding against weren't about to let some punk kid take money out of their pockets if they could help it and I don't blame them. This was a gee-whiz weekend for me but it was their livelihood and they weren't going to make it easy for me just because they had kids my age or because some reporter thought I was cute. The odd thing is that now these same men are my friends and co-workers but back then I was just an upstart bug to be squashed.
Black ended up winning the race, with almost no help from me. His leg was injured just before the race when he and one of the other stallions attacked one another but luckily not seriously enough to slow him down or be a permanent problem and the second I crossed under the wire was when life as I knew it ended. There was a protest based on Black and Cyclone going after one another but the stewards allowed the results to stand and we were the official winners.
From the moment I rode Black into the winner's circle I became a commodity.
It's a surreal thing to lose your privacy before you finish puberty.
Suddenly I was inundated with interview requests, though to this day I've no idea what they thought I had to say; c'mon, I was twelve years old. My parent's answering machine was filled with messages from People Magazine, Sport's Illustrated, Barbara Walters, 20-20, the local news stations, Blood Horse, the New York Times and everyone else you can think of. Writer's wanted to know if my life's story was for sale and published anyway when we refused.
At first Mom or Dad would say I was up in my room and offer to take a message. Later they'd just say I was out, they didn't know where I was or when I'd be home and if they wanted to leave a number they'd see I got it. It didn't cut down on the requests at all.
Then, with no warning, I lost Black when his real owner came to take him back to Arabia. All that publicity about us had made its way to Arabia and some easy checking let the man know I had his horse. Within weeks of the match race he'd arrived in the US to claim his property with proof of ownership in hand. Having no choice, I handed him over, went into a depression and slipped back into being that short kid in the third row for almost a year and a half. The calls stopped and the reporters went away. On one hand I was happy about regaining my privacy, but on the other, I missed it—no, not the publicity, which I've always felt two ways about, but living a life more exciting that just being a student in Queens. Beyond that, I loved Black and still do; he'd saved my life and I felt like I owed him us being together because I knew he loved me back. Sometimes I think he's my first true love, as stupid as that may sound but I believe that we're both better when we're together. I still believe that.
I figured that my fifteen minutes were up. Sure, Black's owner had promised me his first foal as a reward for saving the horse and swore that I'd receive it whenever it was ready to ship but I didn't believe him and thought it was just a sop to placate me. To my surprise, I was wrong. About eighteen months after Black went back to Arabia I got a letter saying the weanling was on his way with flight information about his arrival in New York, along with his papers.
Satan arrived the summer I'd finished my freshman year at Syracuse University—I'd skipped a couple of years back in elementary school and another in junior high so I was sixteen when I told Dad I wanted to drop out of college to train him. My parents weren't about to let that happen; like most parents, they have a major thing about education—and they still saw the whole horse thing I was getting involved in as a temporary hobby I'd forget about when I started a 'real' career. That made sense to everyone except me, of course, and I didn't want to hear it; I wanted to train and ride my new horse and dug my heels in and so did they, but eventually we reached a compromise. I had to stay up at Syracuse one more year to get the full benefit of the scholarship I'd won and Henry would train Satan while I was up north. When the scholarship ran its course I could transfer someplace local. I hated it, but it wasn't open for discussion. That's why I spent two years riding the subway to NYU.
I suppose a degree may help me in the long run—I mean I know a lot of stuff about animal husbandry and anatomy and horse medicine but I still maintain I could have picked it up from Henry or at the tracks. I still see a lot of my college time as wasted. I know that sounds like the worst possible attitude, but I'm convinced that I could have learned as much, if not more, by just doing my job, by riding and helping with training horses.
I know people have cast me as some kind of role model but I'm not and this is just one area I think I fall short. Don't get me wrong; I know education matters, but in my own particular case? Well, like I said, I think I could have learned what I needed to know at the tracks.
It doesn't matter now; it's a done deal.
While I was finishing my senior year at NYU we aimed Satan for the Triple Crown. I was too busy to do a lot of the day to day training but I got to ride the actual races and that ended up depressing me. That surprises people and I know it probably shouldn't have but I ended up frustrated about how things had gone and then feeling like a complete idiot for feeling sorry for myself. C'mon, winning the Triple Crown? Horsemen go their entire lives dreaming about it and here I was at eighteen and I'd just grabbed the brass ring.
The problem, the way I saw it was that I felt like I was just a hired hand, just another jock and anyone could have done what I did. Satan was so well trained by then—with almost no help from me since I'd been spending my days sitting in classrooms—he was so good that you could have put a monkey on his back and he would have won. I really did just go along for the ride on him; he set his own pace, found his own openings and won his own races. He was that good.
The Triple Crown; I think that's when I really started to lose control of my life. I'd had a small taste back when I'd ridden the match race on Black a couple of years before, but this was another reality. The Crown races were when I became public property. Mind you, I never agreed with that, but the track management, the press and strangers on the street all seemed to assume. During the lead up to the Crown races was when I started being recognized outside of the small world of professional racing; after we won it exploded.
I'd stop for something to eat and people in a diner would give me that look that meant they'd seen me somewhere. I'd be in an airport going to another track and I'd be automatically bumped up to business or first class without asking simply because the gate agent had seen me on TV. When I walked around a track, working, I'd have to stop to sign autographs. When I went to my high school reunion my old classmates either made a big deal over me or didn't know what to say and they all seemed to know more about me than I did. The phone kept ringing with reporters wanting a quote or another interview; as if I had anything to say worth listening to. I was regarded as a source of wisdom in the jockey rooms around the country. The riders who used to rag on me and keep me in my place as the new kid are now close friends. Other trainers, trainers from other stables, sought me out to ride for them, even though I had a steady job riding our own horses.
It was an eye opener and one I'm grateful for, but it was still a bizarre thing to go through.
The oddest thing about all this was that I didn't feel any different than I ever had and I still don't. I'm just me. It was all coming from the outside, not from in my own head. It was everyone else who seemed to think I was a big deal. I never did—I know better. I know how many others there are who can put me in my place and without even trying. If this sounds like I'm ungrateful or resentful or something, it's not how I mean to come across. I know astoundingly how lucky I've been—starting with simply surviving that shipwreck and continuing through a lot of horse races and a Triple Crown victory. I know too many good people who bust themselves trying to gain half what I have and never quite manage to do it and usually through no fault of their own.
I know how fast it can all disappear; injury, bad choices, bad luck—it can all be gone in an instant. I've seen it happen. I think some part of me is waiting to wake up, know it wasn't real and head off to eleventh grade math or something.
Money is another weird aspect of this whole thing. When I was growing up, back when we lived in Queens, we didn't have that much. Dad worked as an accountant and my mother has pretty much always been a housewife—at least since I was born anyway, and so while we were never really worried about the wolves being at the door, we were a long way from rich. If I hadn't gotten a scholarship to college I doubt if I would have gone.
There's a lot of money in horse racing if you're lucky but the problem is that your luck can change in a second and usually without warning. In fact, you can pretty much count on it.
Satan won the Triple Crown and that was a huge payday but then he injured a leg and was put out to stud which was another and ongoing payday—lucky for us. Black Minx won the Kentucky Derby, went track sour and had to be retired—bad luck. Horses break down all the time, matings don't always bring the kind of foal you hope for and the mortality rate of the livestock is a lot higher than most people realize. Horses get sick and injured all the time. Barns burn down, as we know too well.
And a horse farm is incredibly expensive to run. It amazes me how much money we go through; sometimes it's like Monopoly money, the numbers are so unreal to me.
People seem to assume I'm rolling in money but the simple fact is that I'm not. I'm not a free agent jockey. I'm Hopeful Farm's stable rider and I'm just another employee—at least technically. When I'm at the farm I live in the main house and so I get room and board plus a salary but it's not enough to make me rich. Not even close. It's closer to just being walking around money and I've started taking on races and riding for other outfits when I have the time just to have some money to put away for myself. Mind you, this is my choice because I know that if I took a jockey's full ten percent cut of the purses it would hurt the farm's income and that would be self-destructive. Henry and my parents think I take extra rides for the experience, and that is part of it, but it's for the money, too.
And that's another thing—It's hard to find time for a girlfriend. I mean I have a lot of friends and I like a lot of the people at the tracks and the farms we work with but I'm always travelling, I'm almost never in the same place for more than a couple of weeks and it gets tired. It's fun and it's exciting but I get sick of living out of a suitcase or a duffel bag. Every time I go to a new track or a new training facility it's like starting all over again. You have to find the lay of the land, where the cafeteria is, where the jockey room is, figure out who's who and it just gets tired to have to do this over and over. Okay, I've been at enough tracks and places that I guess people know me and I know them, but still—it's still travelling all the time and the simple fact is that I like being up at the farm.
This is sounding like I'm complaining and whining and I'm not.
This is the life I've chosen but it's not an easy life and sometimes the day to day reality of it gets difficult, at least for me. Mind you, I know I'm one of the ones who's lucky and gotten more than my share of good breaks, but still—there are good and bad to everything, right?
I don't know what will happen down the road any more than anyone else does but my hope and my dream is that the farm will thrive, our horses will improve the breed in terms of both speed and soundness and I'll be able to continue for another fifty years or more.
I'd like to see the problems which are destroying racing addressed and eventually solved; the weakening of the breed through inbreeding, the physical and mental stresses which cause a lot of good jocks to either ruin their own heath or force them to quit. There are a lot of good farms—and the people who run them—by the stresses and uncertainty of the sport and I'm not sure what to do about that, if anything.
For me, I'd like to get married and raise a family and I'd like to start that fairly soon, though I don't know if it will happen. I hope that it does. I would like that and I think some part of me needs the security and grounding I think that would give me.
I expect that I'll keep riding for a while yet but at some point I'd like to move over to training. I'm nowhere close to being ready for that yet, I don't know enough yet but at some point I'd like to be.
And so for now I just keep riding, keep trying to win races. It's what I do.