Black Tie Affair
When I wrote about Black Tie Affair earlier this year, I knew this day would arrive. Knowing it does not, in any way, make it easier to bear. Back then it was not my intent to write about him again. But as I spent some final time with him on his last morning, as he picked at his hay and let me rub his face, he reminded me of some things I still wanted to say.
When I first moved to Kentucky three-plus years ago, I found it difficult to drive anywhere in the bluegrass without being distracted by the horses. This has not really changed for me—I never tire of seeing horses in pastures, horses in barns, horses everywhere. The first time I went to Keeneland for the races I was more than a little overwhelmed by the experience of standing right next to the track, watching thousand-pound Thoroughbreds strive with every bit of themselves to reach the finish line in front of the rest. My first visit to Churchill Downs was similarly emotional, and I still get a lump in my throat when I see the names of every Kentucky Derby winner inscribed along the grandstand and paddock eaves.
I think this is because as a child, I read all the books—Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion and Man o’ War, Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind. If you read those books it was impossible not to fall just a little bit in love with Thoroughbred horses, or at least with the fictional, romantic idea of a racehorse. The books emphasized the Thoroughbred’s intelligence, courage, and will to win. They opened up the possibility that a mere person, a boy or a girl, could have an actual friendship with such a fabulous creature. As I grew older I had my own horses, and I learned that horses are, in fact, totally fabulous. Still, in the back of your mind–in the grown-up part, the rational, non-child part—a Thoroughbred stallion can’t really be like they are in the books, can they?
Well, here is the grown-up truth. Yes, they can. They can be exactly, perfectly, wonderfully like in the books. They can be black and shiny or red and muscular. They can also be nearly white, with deep dark eyes and a tail the color of pearls. They can be cantankerous, exuberant, or playful. They can be kind, gentle and affectionate. And they can be courageous and dignified, imbued with a will to win–a will to live–despite overwhelming physical ailments that would fell a lesser being. Black Tie Affair was all these things. He was the stallion from the books, the one every child hopes really exists.
Race on, Black Tie Affair.