Roy Jackson has trouble finding the words to describe what the past four months have been like. When pressed, he pauses deeply and then does his best.
"It's hard to describe, it really is," Jackson said. "I guess you could say it has been unbelievable, surreal, and a whirlwind. They are probably the best words I can come up with. We've had every emotion you can think of packed into just a few months."
Jackson and his wife, Gretchen, began the long, emotional journey in April when they decided to saddle not one, but two horses in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). One of their horses, Barbaro, won the Derby in convincing fashion and had the Triple Crown in his sights.
The excitement and joy the Jacksons felt was trumped by disbelief and sadness two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), when Barbaro broke down just a few steps into the race. Barbaro's ensuing battle for life has since touched the nation and given the Jacksons a new outlook on life.
"We've been touched by the outpouring of concern," said Roy Jackson, who reported Barbaro continues to improve. "We feel an obligation to the general public because of all the interest. We also realize that it doesn't do a whole lot of good to sit around. We have to get on with things. We're pretty optimistic people, and we hope there are some other good things to come."
One of those good things turned out to be the Jacksons' "other horse" in the Derby. Trained by Barclay Tagg, Showing Up may just be the best 3-year old turf horse in the country if his last two races are any indication.
On June 24, Showing Up made his turf debut in the $1-million Colonial Turf Cup Stakes. And what a debut it was. The son of Strategic Mission devoured the field and set a Colonial Downs outer turf course record by running the 1 3/16-miles in 1:52.98, nearly two full seconds better than the previous record set eight years ago.
If that performance wasn't enough, Showing Up made an even bigger mark Aug. 12 at Arlington Park in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT). This time in wire-to-wire fashion, Showing Up won by 1 1/2 lengths for his fifth win in six career starts. Showing Up's time of 2:00.09 was 1.26 seconds faster than older horses ran 1 1/4 miles in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) earlier in the day. And he did it while carrying 126 pounds.
"I knew he was a good horse--I wouldn't have put him in the Kentucky Derby if I didn't think he was," said Tagg, who trained Funny Cide to win the 2003 Derby. "But I never thought he was going to be this great. He didn't even run as a 2-year old. He handled himself well when he broke his maiden (at Gulfsteam Park Feb. 11), and impressed us in the same manner in an allowance win. I think only having a couple of weeks to prepare for the Derby affected him in that race (when he finished sixth).
"Once Barbaro won the Derby, there was no sense bringing Showing Up back for the Preakness. So we decided to skip that and work him on the turf. He seemed to love it and his father was a turf horse, so we went for it."
The Kentucky-bred Showing Up, who is stabled at Saratoga, has earned $1,080,500. He is currently tied for seventh in John Deere Turf Division standings and may be on a collision course with other top older turf horses, like Irish-bred Cacique and 8-year old The Tin Man, when the Breeders' Cup is held Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
Until then, Tagg wants Showing Up to run at least once more on the turf. He is eyeing the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) Sept. 9 and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) Oct. 7, both at Belmont Park, or perhaps a race in Canada.
Meanwhile, in typical fashion, the Jacksons are staying low key.
"There really is no plan with him yet," Roy Jackson said. "There isn't a whole lot for 3-year olds in the fall. We'll just see how it goes. He has been a real pleasant surprise for us. If he could make it to the Breeders' Cup, that would be fun. We've learned to take things day by day."