Academy Award 1986-2010
We lost Academy Award today. It was, for many of us at Old Friends, as difficult as any of our recent losses. I am not even sure where to begin, since Academy Award represented so many things, on so many different levels, to so many people.
So, I suppose I have to begin with the obvious: Academy Award was a son of the great Secretariat. A Sunday tour did not pass without at least one visitor getting a little emotional over that fact. For many of us who grew up in the 1970s, Secretariat was our first and greatest racing hero. We pinned up pictures of him, followed his career, and at least in my own case, were lucky enough to have parents who indulged us with a visit to the Big Red Horse. Meeting Academy Award, the son of Secretariat, became like touching a little piece of history and a reminder that racing provides heroes for a lifetime. A lock of his mane, for some visitors, became a cherished memento.
And that is all so unfair to Academy Award, the horse. A good racehorse in his own right, Academy Award was most definitely not his daddy. Smaller, perhaps a slightly darker red, Academy Award was a combination of bantam rooster and shy little boy. Bring people by when he was outside in his paddock and he loved to show off. On the other hand, if he was taking a nap in his stall he often wouldn’t bother to get up, staying curled up in his straw like a large red puppy. Since he spent his days in his stall and went outside at night, he got plenty of carrots and lots of attention from tours as they walked through the big barn.
Academy Award surely didn’t like it when other horses got more of that attention. If a new stallion took up residence in “his” barn, he huffed and puffed like he was going to blow the place down. For some time, Wallenda lived in the stall next to him and Academy Award hated it when I fussed over the other stallion. He sniffed and snorted at the gaps in the wall, making sure I knew he was unhappy with the situation. He could have been the poster child for “small but mighty.” Yet while he put on a tough facade to the other stallions, for a long time he was totally intimidated by children. For his first few months at Old Friends, if I had kids on a tour Academy Award hid as far back in his stall as possible. You could almost see him trying to be invisible.
Some horses, when they arrive at Old Friends, seem like they were always a part of the farm. The Wicked North, Marquetry, Commentator, Danthebluegrassman—they are so friendly you feel like you always knew them, like they are friends who came back home after being away for a while. Academy Award, for me, was different. Maybe it was the mystique of his sire, or maybe it was just his personality. Probably it was a little of both, but it took me some time to see him solely for himself—a nice, sometimes shy, affectionate little horse who liked to lean his head against my shoulder while I patted his neck. I don’t know why it should surprise me, but it does–that sneaky little red horse wormed his way right into my heart. He did that not because of where he came from, but because of who he was.
When Academy Award arrived at Old Friends, I was excited to be able to know a son of my childhood hero. But now I am just happy to say I knew Academy Award—the small but mighty red horse with the pretty face and shy manner, who loved carrots, kind words, and having his face rubbed.