Go for Wand

Breeders' Cup Distaff

Belmont Park, 27 October 1990


Copyright 1991
Dale McClare


Et vera incessu patuit dea

(Aeneid I, 405)

Your early challenge for the pace
Defined the temper of the race—
The clash predicted entered on
Before the quarter mile was gone.

The Queen was not unhappy, though,
To see you, Princess, hurry so;
She rated kindly at your side
Throughout the next two quarters ride.

She challenged midway round the turn
And you switched into afterburn;
So, though her move was deadly fast,
She wasn't able to get past.

And now, as one, you turn for home,
Each one flying on her own:
The Princess leading at the rail,
The Queen determined not to fail.

She really isn't too concerned—
A champion, she awaits her turn;
But still she turns a widened eye
To check the speed she can't get by.

Is she a little bit surprised
To see you in such humble guise:
A blaze that straggles off your face,
Your head held low throughout the race?

Or does she go beyond the weeds
And seek to penetrate the deeds:
Your calm devotion to the bout,
Your champion's fire flashing out?

The eighth pole passes in a blur,
And still you haven't looked at her,
The champion champing in your ear
And forging up to passing gear.

Her ardor is a thing to see
And still you're striding fluidly;
She gathers up to make a move
And you're as tranquil as a dove.

Whence this, Princess, settled calm
Before the monarch of the realm?
Is it 'cause you own the course—
Or does it have a deeper source?

(Your one and forty-five and four
Will have a place in racing lore;
No filly's ever faster sped
Nor colt, save legendary Red.)

You're coming to the sixteenth pole
And still you have it in control
And still you're poised and full of class
And still your action's smooth as glass.

A world of dazzled fans is up
To cheer the champions to the Cup,
But no one's heard the fatal crack
A dozen paces further back.

And as you purchase for the run
Your fractured ankle comes undone;
Your forelegs meld into the track,
You topple headlong to your back.

The image penetrates the brain:
A million minds are seared with pain.
The camera tracks the victor through,
The viewer's eye sees only you.

You're up and limping for the side,
Your ankle hanging by some hide;
The jockey, lifeless, on his face,
Will up and ride a later race.

But, Princess, your career is done
Your brilliant jewels in the sun;
The Fates have deigned to bring you down
A dozen paces from the crown.

Like other heroes you must go
To tour the nether world below;
You'll learn of heartbreak, greatness, zeal,
Of crippled hoof and wounded heel.

You'll hear the fate Achilles bore,
The hero of the Trojan War;
His epithet was "swift of foot,"
A flaw was 'neath his ankle put.

Like you and others of your time
This prince was smitten in his prime
(Like Oedipus, whose foot was lame,
And Troy's famed prince who horses tamed).

Great Secretariat you'll find
Grand Canyon, Fappiano's pride,
That sire too, The Minstrel—all
By tragic laminitis galled.

You'll follow Mr. Nickerson
And, after, Shaker Knit will come,
And shortly after, two more stars:
Greats Northern Dancer, Alydar.

This last just short of triumph raced
In Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes;
And as he caught the sires' crown
The Fates saw fit to strike him down.

But think him not by heaven scorned,
Whom nature lavishly adorned
With steel persistence to the last;
We've seen his mettle, know his class.

For know that even Superhorse
Had seen misfortune's awful course:
His pilot hurtled from the game,
Himself defiled by fatal pain.

But (not to turn our eyes away,
Or sidestep sorrow's grieving day)
We'll carry always in our heart
His stirring drive at Belmont Park:

The jockey, with his vision peeled,
Looking back to find the field;
The Legend, in a world his own,
Reaching, snapping, pounding home.

Nor shall we, Princess, overlook
The regent of the sire book;
His Vice your sire's sire is,
Your blaze the mirror is of his.

A David only fifteen hands
But tempered like a firebrand,
He took two jewels from the Crown
Before his birthday rolled around.

And still the Dancer crossed the line
In Derby's swiftest ever time,
Till Red and Sham attacked the course
And worked their stunning tour de force.

All these you'll see, and countless more
From Ruffian down to Man O'War;
In her a kindred spirit flames
Who'll know the measure of your pain.

A brilliant champ at two and three,
Her every stakes a record spree,
She never ran behind the pace
And never lost a single race...

Till, matched with Foolish Pleasure's grit,
She smashed her sesamoids to bits
While streaking just two quarters out
A half a length before the colt.

Her talent so prodigious proved
She'd never had to fend a move;
Her final chance to show her will
Was shattered when her blood was spilled.

But, Princess, you had time to flash
Your game commitment to the task
When, tested hard throughout the race,
Your courage held the Queen in place.

We loved this, Princess, and your art,
And loved great Bayakoa's heart;
You both a humbling lesson are
In dedication and desire.

(Like greats Affirmed and Alydar,
Sunday Silence—Easy Goer,
You are, as famous duellists seem,
Not so much rivals as a team.

A team that death has deigned to part:
The Queen, to earth; for you, the stars;
A kind of Gemini you'll be,
Like Castor, mortal; Pollux, free.)

Your tour completed, take your place
Among the legends of your race;
Who long have soared to higher climes,
Their shadows only left behind.

Ascend like Pegasus the sky
And join their stellar company—
While every place you've ever been
Your life continues on again:

You're charging down the homestretch
In the Breeders' Juvenile;
You're taking honors in the Test
In record matching style.

You're romping in the Alabam,
The fastest ever raced;
And sizzling in the Beldame
At world record pace.

You've got the Ashland, Mother Goose;
You've run the Maskette down;
You've beat your double champion sib
Who wears the Triple Crown.

And still you're holding off the Queen
And still she's forging forth,
And still you're all serenity—
A goddess come to earth.

And still you're digging deeper down
To make the final drive,
Your spirit never wavering,
All sinew stretched to fly.

The End