As I made my way to the paddock saddling area for the “Seven Horse,” there was little doubt who was being readied on the far side of the enclosure. Among a crowd at least eight rows deep, I found all kinds of people—seasoned handicappers, couples enjoying a date at the races, friends out for a good time, and mothers and fathers with their kids, to name just a few. I tuned into the buzz of the crowd and sought out the details on the object of their fascination.
I heard mothers say to their kids, “There he is. Just look at him,” as young eyes opened wide. “He is a one of a kind horse.”
A group of guys out for the day slapped one another on the back and palms collided in high fives. “He’s the Man. What a bad ass,” they said, charged with the same fervor and awe die-hard football fans exert when they talk about their favorite NFL player.
It continued, a symphony of sounds made up of different genders, accents, and languages. “Where is he? There.” And then the gasps and pauses, as people just took him in.
His groom walked him ’round, the bay form vanishing and reappearing from behind the saddling wall only adding to the crowd’s rising anticipation. Unlike most of the other horses that stood by their number as patiently as their hot blood would allow, the “Seven Horse” needed to move, his energy more characteristic of a predator than a horse.
I walked out to the rail along the walkway that leads to the paddock lawn. The lines of people continued and grew even deeper as Corey Nakatani made his way out to meet his mount. Although the sun had begun to set, the temperature in the paddock was rising as the first horse made his way down the path and fans waited, positioning cameras with the same excitement seen on a red carpet readying for a Hollywood celebrity or rock star appearance.
And then he emerged…heading straight toward one of the world’s most famous tracks and to his thousands of fans. His blinkers revealed just enough of hungry eyes, eyes that were taking in the surroundings, sizing up the competition, and readying to devour all opponents.
The crowd went wild, as cheers rose up around him. His concerned groom tried to hush the crowd, but one man with a celebrity of this proportion could do little to educate the masses on the volatile nature of the Thoroughbred.
When the horse emerged once again from the grassy area with his mount, his groom had acquired some assistance in an effort to subdue the crowd. Now an entourage of six men accompanied the single horse, as he made his way through the thickening crowd and finally disappeared into the shadows of the tunnel that leads to the track. Some regular racegoers expressed concern over the horse’s reaction to the vociferous reception and well-wishes of the crowd.
But time would tell that what seemed to be a display of skittishness and nerves from the horse would prove merely to be an exercise in blowing off a little steam, as all things red hot tend to do.
As Lava Man went on to make history, I glanced back at the bronze statue of Seabiscuit that stands alert in the paddock at Santa Anita, in honor and memory of another great horse—another once overlooked claimer and “people’s horse,” another horse given a second chance to prove his talent and heart. I stopped, and looked around at the many people of all different ages, cultures, and economic backgrounds all brought together by this one horse, all sharing the desire to be a part of racing history, and stand if only for a moment in the presence of greatness.
As I made my way to the track, I heard another voice simply state, “This is what racing is all about.”
Cynthia Biamon is the executive producer for all on-air programming and original content for AT&T U-verse. She resides in Los Angeles.