I know Billy Reed didn’t go to the backside of Churchill Downs the day after this year’s Derby looking for an Eclipse Award, the third of his career.
He found one anyway.
Reed, longtime columnist for The Courier-Journal who went on to Sports Illustrated, then came back to the state for the Lexington Herald-Leader and other publications, penned a heartfelt piece about going to the stable of the deceased Eight Belles with his granddaughter the morning after the Derby.
He showed up as a grandfather, but knew a story when he saw one, and the piece that came about because of it, picked up by Thoroughbred Times, captured something in the way the public feels about horses, and especially about a filly who ran her heart out before her legs collapsed under her after the most famous horse race in the world.
Congratulations to Reed. Some writers spend an entire career hoping to win this kind of national award. And some find it when they aren’t even looking, but are still alert enough to see it, and articulate enough to turn a young girl’s gift to a fallen filly into an expression that resonates everywhere.
The conclusion of Reed’s piece:
The Kentucky Derby is supposed to be about a dream made real, not about a nightmare that will haunt forever. It is supposed to be about life, not death. It’s supposed to be about all that’s wonderful about Kentucky’s signature industry instead of about a grandfather trying to help a child understand life’s eternal mysteries.
Yet as is the case with any endeavor worth the doing, and the striving, the worst must be risked if the best is to be attained. That’s how it has been for 134 years on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, and it can only be hoped that’s how it will be forever. The great writer Joe Palmer once wrote that Man o’War come closer than anything to a being a living flame. The same might be said of any race horse that causes the heart to beat just a little faster.
The grandfather hoped the tragedy of Eight Belles didn’t deter the little girl from growing to share his love of horses and the people who care for them. She must understand that, yes, horses can break your heart. But they also can bring out the best in even the worst of us.
On the day after the 40th Kentucky Derby he had seen in person, the grandfather watched the little girl shyly and bravely walking up to Eight Belles’ trainer with rose in one hand, drawing in the other. “Thank you,” he said, softly. “You know how to make people feel good.”
So do horses, even those who die in the trying.