Kids, parents always say, grow up so fast.
By the time they’re two, human babies are saying — over and over — the word “No.” Horses, on the other hand, are working on building enough graded earnings to run in the Derby.
At three, human babies toddle about, testing their limits and, sometimes, their parents’ patience. Three year-old horses, meanwhile, are (if they’re exceptionally lucky and/or exceptionally good) preparing for what may well be the most important races in their lives.
At six, human children enter the high-stakes world of first grade. Horses enter the low-stakes world of retirement.
The youngster pictured on the right is Exhibit A in our “they grow up so fast” display. Nearly two years ago, on April 30, 2009, my cellphone rang during our wanderings on the Churchill Downs backstretch; our pregnant mare, The Big Four Oh, had given birth to a colt, by Swain. Because he jumped up almost immediately and started zooming around his mother and checking out the scene, the folks around the barn nicknamed him Rocket.
Then, he was all spider-long legs and unbridled curiousity. Mom was always around for safety’s sake, and all those people made sure he had food and water aplenty; nothing to do but be a horse, explore the fields, run and buck. Prove that there’s good reason for the phrase “horsing around.”
Fast-forward 23 months — past operation, recovery, breaking — and the phone rings again. The farm manager tells me, “It’s time. Your colt is ready to go to work.”
And with that, our horse put away childish things. Young Rocket, meet the new you: Dreamin’ Signore.
A few days ago, a van spirited him off to Pennsylvania, where he’ll learn his trade under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. This morning, I gathered up the papers that neatly summarize his life and our aspirations for him: his Jockey Club registration and name authorization tag, his Maryland-bred papers, his Delaware Certified papers. And the smallest, just a card, really, but carrying the biggest dreams: his Breeders Cup nomination. Chances are, overwhelmingly, that we won’t need that last; on the other hand, if each birth is a tiny miracle, is it so unreasonable to believe in miracles?
In the coming months, the Sheppard crew will sculpt his body, peeling away baby fat, building muscle. They’ll train his mind, too, turning frolicsome youngster into purposeful racer. We hope.
And one day, with the heaping helping of good luck that’s always a prerequisite, he’ll enter the starting gate before his first race.
But that’s the future. For now, Rocket’s doing what horses do, which is growing up so fast. And taking us along for the ride.