Thursday January 6, 2011

Polish Navy 1984-2011

Over the years at Old Friends, we have been fortunate to know so many wonderful horses. Today we lost an especially wonderful one.  Polish Navy was euthanized this afternoon, after injuring his hip earlier this winter.  He never bounced back from that injury.  He was clearly uncomfortable, and it was his time.  For me it’s another hard loss, because Navy’s charm and personality made him quietly unforgettable. 

As I wrote this, I went online and refreshed my memory of Navy’s accomplishments.  He was a very good racehorse, the winner of $1.1 million.  He sired Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero, undoubtedly his most famous offspring.  If you look at Polish Navy’s pedigree, you’ll see he is a son of the great stallion Danzig, a grandson of Northern Dancer, and a great-grandson of War Admiral.  One generation more takes him back to Man o’ War. That’s some serious pedigree, and yet if you met Navy, your first impression would probably have been how unassuming he was.  He wasn’t a big, flashy personality, nor was he a show-off. When you met him you felt as though he was just as happy to meet you as he was to get carrots.  His paddock, directly across from Williamstown, was toward the back of the farm where it was peaceful, but still had enough activity to be interesting. 

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote how great he looked–this past spring his bay coat was a gorgeous, rich, cocoa color with dapples highlighted by black and gold.  He wasn’t a large horse, but he was handsome and kind.  He didn’t have tricks to work the crowd, nor was he a ham who pranced and danced.  But he would stand right next to me, his good eye half closed while I patted his neck and kissed his nose.  And if I gently rubbed his missing eye, he was blissfully happy.

I have known for a little while this day was going to arrive sooner rather than later.   Navy has been in the barn for several weeks now, off limits to tours. He mostly stood where he could look outside, quietly watching any activity at the farm.  Last Sunday, after our tours, I stuffed my pockets with carrots and slipped into his stall.  He turned his head toward me, knowing I had treats.  I fed him his carrots and gently stoked his neck.  When the carrots were gone, Navy pushed his face into my arm.  I knew what he wanted and I rubbed his eye for what turned out to be the last time.  

It’s hard to describe the allure of retired Thoroughbred racehorses, especially the stallions, at Old Friends.  I suspect it’s partly the Thoroughbred itself, having been bred for so long to one aim.  I believe the more successful the individual horse was at racing, the smarter he or she is.  I am also sure there is some indefinable “something” the horses at Old Friends just have in spades.  Suffice it to say, Polish Navy was beyond special in all those ways. 

I’ll miss you, Navy.  You were a classy, kind horse and I didn’t know you for nearly long enough. 




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14 responses to “Thursday January 6, 2011

  1. Viv from Ivytree

    Val, when I wrote my little piece on facebook, you were the friend I thought of when I said what few things in life Polish expected. In the quiet of the big barn, you have been there for them until the last day. I thank you for that. I know my bratty little greeting committee was there to welcome him and in my heart, I believe Appy and the rest of the Old Friends herd was the first thing Polish saw with two new, perfect eyes. Bless you for all you do and for the friendship that you share with them. Hugs, Viv

    • oldfriendsblog

      I’m going to miss him. He was a class act in every way and he always made me feel like I was his friend. I am glad he is resting now. -Val

  2. Tracey Dryka

    Yes to look back on what Polish Navy accomplished speaks volume. A lot of Northern Dancer’s foals were not flashy but they showed their true racing blood as his father Danzig, and Sire of Sires Northern Dancer. Polish Navy was none the less, sad to see them go …….

  3. Kate Dougherty

    What a lovely tribute.

  4. As I read your words Val tears again, I am not sure how many times today fall down my face. My husband says it is just who I am that I get so attached to some of the horses there at Old Friends, but it is very hard at times, I feel like I have lost a “friend” I asked Michael today, “how can anyone spend anytime with them and not love them”? There is no way for me. I love them all but there are some like Polish Navy that you just can’t help but make that connection with.

    Like you I have thought about my last time with him and how much I am going to miss him. I would always stand there on the hill an extra long time giving him more carrots than some of the rest. He was the kind of horse that was just hard to walk away from. It will not be the same walking up that hill. It will never be the same again for me. I know I will think about him everytime. I miss him already! I know he is in a better place and that is the only thing that makes me feel better. RIP boy!

  5. Pat

    Such a nice tribute, and so nice that your last visit with him was so comforting for him. I met him in October and I’m sad I won’t see him again…

  6. MRO

    I’m also feeling very sad over the loss of Polish Navy. I started following racing full-time in the mid-80s, which was just about the time Polish Navy began his racing career. I was really young, and I saw Danzig as competition to my favorites Alydar & Seattle Slew. I rooted against his progeny in every race, so I didn’t appreciate Polish Navy during his racing days. However, many years later, I was thrilled to see Polish Navy made his way to OF. He was a beautiful boy, and I’m so glad I was able to meet him and make amends.

    Val, your tribute to Polish Navy is especially beautiful, and I so appreciate your care and the care of everyone at OF. He deserved it.

  7. victoria

    Val, thank you for your stirring and perfect tribute to sweet, kind, unassuming Polish Navy. As I look back, everytime I visited him, I think that was a great part of his charm and specialness, his UNASSUMING, gentle personality. He didn’t beg, or push. He just waited and stood with you. A treasure. I, like all of us, only wish we could go there once again and give him loads more carrots.

  8. Gae

    I’m sorry to read about Polish Navy…the only time I saw him was at Belmont…I hung out by the saddling paddock so I could have a good look at him and take his picture….pretty sure he won that day.

  9. Cheryl

    Val, Thank you for your moving words. I saw Polish Navy once at Old Friends up the hill. My Dad was career Navy & my mom’s family from Poland, so his name alone endeared him. He and all the stars prove “love at first sight” is real. May they live forever in the hearts of people now & to come.

  10. Becky

    Rest in peace dear Polish Navy – you were one of my favorites to visit at Old Friends. I wish you peace in your rainbow bridge pasture. I’ll miss you so very much.

  11. tami

    Just found your website, and I was reading about your dear friend Polish Navy. How lucky he was to have such wonderful, caring friends. Reading this brought tears to my eyes as I too have just lost my best friend Spanky who was 20. These very beautiful animals bring us so much joy. Thanks for telling your story.

  12. They are like old two legged Warriors…They Never Die …They Just Fade Away…ty…

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