Crystal Clear

By Davant Latham
He was special; a simple word that seems inadequate, but at the same time says it all. He was speed incarnate, not just blazing fast but white-hot fast, able to run a second quarter faster perhaps than any horse before him. He was without pretensions, no blue-blooded pedigree or flighty temperament. He was all business. He was the most talked about 3-year-old of his generation, yet he never ran a mile. He singlehandedly brought national attention to a beautiful little track by the bay, but only ran three races there. He was honest -- 11 smashing victories from 14 starts -- and was managed by two honest, straight-talking individuals. No made-for-TV sound bites here, just the straight stuff. He was not quite the fairy tale horse; he was too real for that. He was brilliant, vibrantly alive, and physically imposing, but has passed quietly into that soft, black night. He was Lost in the Fog.

He was appreciated, again a simple word that understates his public appeal, and yet in our age of overblown superlatives, "appreciated" may say more than it seems. As the wins accumulated, his adoring owner would marvel, "Can you believe I own this horse?" Harry Aleo fully appreciated The Fog. In April at Golden Gate, everyone that passed Harry said, "Thanks for running him here, Harry" or "Thank you, Harry." In the paddock, the crowd pressed against the railings for a view, and more cries of "Thank you, Harry" went out. And more than once someone said, "Can you believe this is our horse?" After that day's inconceivable second-place result, the crowd still cheered for him. The people fully appreciated The Fog. Even the stud masters appreciated The Fog; the paddock at Saratoga before the King's Bishop (gr. I) was a convention of every major stud farm waiting to shake Harry's hand and gaze at greatness.

The track managers and various leaders of horse racing seem obsessed with take-out and slots and simulcasting rights. After all, it is business. But perhaps the money makes one forget the cleanness and purity of it, the courage and beauty of the Thoroughbred. The heart of a lion within an animal of prey, the sensation of flight without wings, the exhilaration and exhaustion one feels after witnessing a tenacious stretch duel or a tremendous performance. Slots will not save horse racing; exotic wagers will not save horse racing. Fans will save horse racing. Perhaps we've been too focused on the dollars to see what Harry and the Golden Gate crowd saw. Maybe The Fog came to remind us what we have is truly "priceless."

He came to the right people. Sue Seper foaled and raised him simply, but well, while christening him with the perfect name. Greg and Karen Dodd started him under tack and at times wondered if he had enough "fire," but also battled the desire to keep him and race him themselves. Greg Gilchrist took him, looked temptation in the eye, and took the road less traveled, away from the Derby trail. Not to say he did not travel, for Greg took The Fog crosscountry several times, and certainly their "less traveled road" made all the difference in creating a legion of followers.

Much to everyone's surprise, The Fog ran poorly in his biggest race, but perhaps that too was a part of the master plan, that he could be defeated on the biggest day of all and yet still be the overwhelming champion of his division. Perhaps the thing within him was already there, hiding from view, but there just the same. In spite of that race, he was named champion sprinter and carried the hopes of many into the New Year.

The Fog was hailed as a sure thing in his first start of 2006, yet ran a stunning second. His next start may have provided the most satisfying victory of all when he regained his former glory with a scintillating performance in the Aristides Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. The Fog was his old self, rewarding his faithful while running breathtaking fractions before gearing himself down as he ran to the line that so many would have pushed him toward a year prior.

In the end he, like us, was transient. Flesh and blood. He will always be special. He was Lost in the Fog.