Molly McMule's Horse Tales -
1001 Stall Stories
"NNNNNEEEEEEIIIIIIIGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!" whinnied Ole from the top of the meadow to start the race.
"They're off and running Equinox is far ahead on the straightway, with Desi closing in. The track is muddy, but Desi's long stride isn't being hampered. Now they're rounding the first curve and Equinox is having a little trouble with the slope of the track. Desi is gaining speed and confidence and is now right on the tail of her opponent. Equinox is in the lead, but seems to be faltering some, but still maintaining speed as they round the last curve and on to the final stretch and the finish line. But here comes Desi, and it looks like she might overtake Equinox and she does, but by a nose!" said Beau pretending to be an announcer at a real horse race.
The other stable mates were in the pasture watching and "cheering" as the two youngsters tried to outdo each other in the ring, one of their favorite pastimes. Of course the outcome was always disputed and set off a little flurry of friendly spats and a challenge for the future.
Now that the excess energy was spent, Equinox and Desi joined the group on the hill, Desi gloating about her last minute victory, and Equinox doubting the validity of her claim. The verdict on the hill was split too, and Molly added, "Since there can't be an instant replay, all bets are off."
"But," argued Pasquale, "betting has always been a big part of racing through the years. And after all, the bets here are only who gets to the feeding trough first."
"I know," said Molly. "Horse racing has become so popular that baseball is the only sport that has a bigger attendance and the purse for the winners is thousands of dollars."
Desi and Equinox came to join the crowd, waiting for their decision on the winner and were disappointed when they said it was too close to call. After some grumbling, they started to question how and when horse racing started.
"Gosh," said Ole, "Probably since the horse came into being. The ancient Greeks believed the first horse was a gift to them from the god Poseidon. And in mythology, horses pulled the chariot of Apollo, the sun god, across the skies every twenty-four hours to give the earth its sunlight. Then there was Pegasus, the horse with wings, who has a constellation named after him. So, you see, the horse was very respected and well bred for strength and endurance."
"But, that doesn't mean they raced each other," said Equinox. "They were only old ideas."
"True, but the horse was always prominent in sports. There was chariot racing in ancient Rome, and in Greece, horse racing became so popular that in 638 BC, it was one of the events in the 23rd Olympiad," Ole finished.
Ginny told the group, "I thought that racing began in the 12th century when the English knights came back from the crusades with their Arabian horses. That was the time that Arab stallions and English mares were bred to produce horses that had speed and endurance. Two horse races were often held for the pleasure of the nobility."
Equinox wondered when American thoroughbred racing began. Beau told them, "the British settlers brought horses and racing to America and started the first racetrack on Long Island in 1665."
"Wow," said Desi, "horse racing sure has a long history. When did the Kentucky Derby start?"
"That was in 1875 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. And there is also the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. If any one horse wins all three of those races, he wins the Triple Crown and that's where the millions of dollars are won," said Molly.
"So, now I suppose you want to win the Triple Crown," sassed Equinox, knowing very well that Desi was thinking that would be pretty nice.
"That wouldn't be a bad idea, but it would probably be better to start small," Desi retorted.
"You know, that for years horse racing, especially harness racing has been very popular at county fairs," Molly said. " Actually, the Standardbred was bred specifically for racing under harness."
"And, don't forget the steeplechases. These are particularly exciting because of the obstacles in the track," Beau mentioned.
"Obstacles? What obstacles?" asked Desi.
"Oh, stone walls, timber rails, brush fences and also water jumps. They are a particular challenge. I was told that this race was developed when English and Irish riders went fox hunting as a pastime," said Beau. "They were trying to set up a course that would be similar to the things they would come across as they chased the fox through the countryside."
"So, now you two," said Ginny, "you have an idea of the different type of races that you can practice for. Perhaps tomorrow you can try some of the jumps our person set up in the ring."
"Sure, we'll try those next. It should be fun but how much can we bet on it?" said Desi.
"You can bet your bucket of oats, but you might want to practice first," laughed Beau. "Nothing like missing a meal now and then to keep you on track."
Molly says, for some interesting reading about the history of the horse, read "Dawn Horse to Derby Winner - The Evolution of the Horse" by Ann Crowell. There is also a lot of information on the internet using the Kentucky Derby as a starter to a number of links.