Can You Imagine?

SirBartonPostcard04242020After splashing through the mud beneath the Twin Spires, Loftus guided Sir Barton over to the winner’s circle, where a uniformed attendant draped a blanket of greenery and roses over his withers. His groom stood by his head, slipping the cupped hood off so that the crowd could see their new champion in full. On a gray day, the burnished chestnut had only a cascade of white down his elegant face to interrupt the coppery coat. Was he blowing from the effort? Or had it felt like a workout, a joyful gallop around the track leading the herd home?

In the wee hours of the following morning, he walked through the dark to the waiting car, his hooves clopping on the ramp up into the stall that would be his home for the coming journey. How many of them yawned as the wiry man oversaw their efforts? He wasn’t called “Hard Guy” for nothing: did he snap at them if they tarried? Did he pat the noses of his charges, maybe even manage a smile for his Kentucky Derby winner? Did H.G. Bedwell tick down his checklist of what needed to be done once they arrived? Had he already worked out a strategy for Wednesday’s race? It was the Preakness after all, with its $25,000 purse waiting.

The train wound its way from Kentucky to Maryland, from the Bluegrass to the home of the blue crab. Did the horses sway in their stalls, lulled by the ambient motion of the train over the steel tracks? Did they know they were off to their next test, another meeting at the barrier? As they slid into Pimlico, were they tired from their journey or were they ready to run? For his part, Sir Barton seemed “as proud as a peacock and did not seem a bit sore after his win of the Derby on Saturday.” (Washington Herald, May 13, 1919). Did he walk into his stall aware that all of their eyes were on him?

The_Edwardsville_Intelligencer_Sat__Jul_5__1919_On a warm late spring day, with the sun shining down on the crowd of thousands, he lined up at the barrier with eleven others, standing toward the middle of the undulating crowd of horses. When the start came, his feet were the fastest, finding the front and not allowing another horse to get near him. He flashed under the wire, triumphant and unprecedented: he was the first to win the Kentucky Derby AND the Preakness Stakes. After his show, he returned to the ovation of the thousands, Loftus tipping his cap to the thunderous hands of the race’s witnesses. Commander Ross and H.G. Bedwell beamed, posing with the vaunted Woodlawn Vase for the cameras. Loftus beamed, his young face untouched by the Pimlico dirt this day.

In the background, a man climbed up to the Pimlico weathervane, paint cans in hand, and splashed the Preakness with Ross orange and black, a visible reminder of history made this day, May 14, 1919.

 

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