Let me sing the praises of John, our new tour guide. Though he’s new to us, John is a longtime horseracing fan with an impressive store of knowledge and a deep-down appreciation of Old Friends’ residents, most of whose races he remembers. People volunteer at Old Friends for a variety of reasons. When I asked John his, he answered in one resounding word: “Commentator.” Now, there’s a reason I can’t argue with. John’s helping out on weekends, and besides all his knowledge he’s a great speaker who makes visiting the horses lots of fun, so here’s another reason to spend part of your Saturday or Sunday with us.
Last Saturday a wonderful, memorable moment happened. Memorable as in, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. As I took a group of visitors around, I pointed up the hill toward the back of the farm where Tinners Way and Williamstown were grazing in their neighboring paddocks. It’s a trek up the hill, unfortunately too long a one to include in most tours if people also want to see some of the most popular horses on the front part of the farm, so I often point out Tinner, whose brilliant chestnut coat is eye catching even from far away, and tell people they’re looking at Secretariat’s last son and one of his best, about some of his big wins and how in his first Pacific Classic win Tinner equaled his dad’s Derby record. Often Williamstown is hanging out toward the back of his paddock and it’s not so easy to point out this speedy son of Seattle Slew and recall the track record for a mile he held for a decade at Belmont Park. On Saturday, though, Williamstown was right in the front of his paddock, his nearly black coat and flashy white face and feet gorgeous against the green grass, so I introduced William from afar, too.
After the tour, one of the visitors told me she was powerfully drawn to the big, beautiful son of Seattle Slew. She asked if there was any way at all she could see him closer. Luckily, another guide was on duty and could take the next tour (thank you again, John!) so we jumped on the golf cart, negotiated the mud puddle in the run between Commentator’s paddock and Star Plus’ and found ourselves in an impromptu race along the fence line with Swan’s Way, which he won.
Williamstown was standing by his fence, watching all this with his usual aloof dignity. William is an independent soul who keeps his own counsel. He’s also a bit tough. Cuddling isn’t his style. But I think even he was impressed by the impression he was making because he was all graciousness, as attentive to his new friend as she was to him. These two had such an immediate connection that he did end up accepting a little bit of cuddle, a rare thing from him unless he knows someone well. Sometimes it’s unexplainable why a certain horse has such a powerful effect on a person. In fact, inspires immediate admiration, even love. I only know that it happens, and it’s real. And that sometimes, whether sensing it or out of his or her own generosity, the horse responds in kind. I was privileged to witness such a moment Saturday and grateful to be in a position to help it happen.