"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced...but I know it when I see it." -- Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart
Potter Stewart was writing about pornography. But greatness is another thing you only know when you see it. As we travel through life, we witness greatness, yet often without ever knowing it. Perspective may be needed to realize something is indeed great. That is why it is commonly written that men are best judged after death. The time to reflect by future generations helps identify and define those who were great. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then greatness may be as well. Cultural differences certainly are a factor in our perception of greatness. For instance, there are certainly those who believe Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man. Just as surely are those who will argue that point. Choose the name of any public figure and the same can be said. Muhammad Ali was so great a boxer he is still called "the greatest." He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, and anyone who saw his "rope a dope" knows he also was a great promoter, strategist, and mind-game player. The Kentucky Derby (gr. I) is such a great race it is called "the greatest two minutes" in sports. Secretariat was such a great horse he won the race in less than two minutes. Barnum & Bailey's circus is so great it is called the "greatest show on earth." How could you ever see anything greater than a man being shot from a cannon? Henry Clay was called the "great compromiser." We could use a few of his ilk today, those who don't simply play the game of politics but are willing to compromise with the best interests of society always as their goal. It would probably be stretching it to call Jerry Lee Lewis a great composer, but he did sing about "great balls of fire." A group of five lakes that border Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are so great they are called "the Great Lakes." Tony the Tiger enjoyed his cereal so much, he couldn't help but announce that it was "grrrreat." The compact disc that has sold more copies than any other must be great because it is a compilation of the Eagles' "greatest hits." The Great Gatsby; Great Caesar's Ghost; The Great Escape; Great Britain; the Great Barrier Reef; the Great Wall of China.
OK, enough already...point made. As with any subject, it is up to each of us to define greatness in the horse in our own unique manner. For this writer, it has taken a few distinct forms: * Greatness is the decade of the 1970s, which not only featured Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, but Spectacular Bid, called by his trainer "the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle." * Greatness is the move by Arazi in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and the final surge in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) by Personal Ensign, who had a great will to win. * Greatness is the ability of Dehere, who in the Saratoga Special (gr. II) was dead stopped and still won in a manner that is equally as amazing with every replay. * Greatness is Unbridled, whom this scribe touted for two months as the Derby winner and saw the prediction come true on the first Saturday in May 15 years ago. The greatest racehorse so far in 2005 is Afleet Alex, yet even he could not win the coveted Triple Crown. One length, roughly 81Ž2 feet, has kept him from immortality. The ride Jeremy Rose made aboard Afleet Alex in the Derby will win the race most years. This was not most years. A hot pace and dull rail were the likely culprits. But he showed "great" determination. In the Preakness (gr. I), Afleet Alex made the same "great" move as in his Arkansas Derby (gr. II) victory. When he was nearly knocked down by Scrappy T, he displayed "great" athleticism. In the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Afleet Alex was always moving with "great" fluidity and his move through traffic and by his competitors was, well, great. But is Afleet Alex a "great" horse? We don't know yet. Let's hope we get the chance to find out.