Let’s be honest. Life sort of sucks right now. Okay, maybe not for everyone on a personal basis, but generally, if you look around at what’s going on in the world right now, it’s not exactly the rosiest time in our history. There’s the war in Iraq, for one, and the threat of maybe an additional war with North Korea in our future, and oh, that growing blemish in our oceans from a gigantic oil spill is pretty abysmal as to what humankind is doing to our planet. And if you’re one of those people denying the existence of global warming (And God help you, if you are), then you can at least agree you’re not going to be in the mood to eat any seafood from the once-glorious menu of New Orleans anytime soon. That, in itself, is pretty depressing. And so, with a growing number of wretched things in development right now, I think everyone can agree the one thing they’d like to see is not another superhero movie, but someone real they can really look up to, someone you can root for to maybe show you that there is still something good in the world—someone who can maybe triumph in a time where nobody is a winner.
Perhaps there is no better time to be a fan of horse racing. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: you’ve tricked me into reading a horse racing article. Okay, you’ve got me there, but do me a favor and hear me out. If you’re a person who doesn’t consider horse racing to be of any uplifting or spiritually nourishing value, maybe it’s time to reconsider. It doesn’t have to be about gambling, if you don’t want it to be. Horse racing can be whatever you need it to be. Do you like to see someone overcome adversity, or triumph despite the odds? Me too. It’s sort of therapeutic to watch someone else achieving their dreams, or defying history to conquer some great plateau. In horse racing, that kind of thing happens just about every day. With every new dawn, it’s a chance to witness the unfolding of history, and the possibility of seeing a new hero take the stage. If you’re like me and could use a hero to get you through some of the rough times, here is a story about one horse whose triumphs over adversity make him a champion worth following.
This Monday, a superhero in the form of a big brown colt will be running in a $500,000 race at Belmont Park; his name is Quality Road, and though he’s struggled through several setbacks in his career, his talent alone has him heralded as one of the best horses running today. Quality Road should’ve been the favorite for the Kentucky Derby last year, but his shot at immortality was dashed forever when quarter cracks in his hoofs forced him off the road to the roses. Before his Derby dreams were shattered, the ‘Road won two key prep races at Gulfstream Park in the fashion of a rising star. In only his first start in a stakes race, and his third career start, Quality Road turned away a field of more tested foes to win the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes; three weeks later, he would set a new track record in the Grade I Florida Derby and mark himself as the playboy for the 3-year-old crop. With the onset of quarter cracks following this smashing victory, the colt was forced to sit on the sidelines for the entire Triple Crown until he’d healed up. His first race off the bench was literally one for the record books.
Quality Road returned that summer to break a 30-year-old track record at storied Saratoga Race Course when he won the Amsterdam Stakes off a 5-month layoff. But victory was short-lived; immediately after, the colt hit another road block in the form of a sloppy track in his next two starts, when both the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup were run over an off track. Though he finished 2nd or 3rd in these two races against top-tier competition, it was apparent Quality Road couldn’t show off the depth of his skills in the mud.
The ‘Road was a better horse than those two races proved, and as a testament to his talent, he was entered in America’s biggest championship race: the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It was here, when he was set to test a full field of champions from across the globe, that the unthinkable happened. The sound of a helicopter spooked Quality Road into a frenzy, and after hesitating to load into the gate of the $5-million dollar race, the big colt began to buck wildly once loaded and burst through the open doors wearing a blindfold; thanks to the quick reactions of a gate crewmember, Quality Road was snatched up and kept from running away, but he sustained a handful of cuts on his legs from the starting gate and was scratched from contention seconds before the championship race began. Then, when his connections tried to ship him back to his home on the other side of the country, the colt refused to board the airplane and had to be vanned back cross-country. Some said he would never race again. But Quality Road proved them wrong, and showed exactly what he was made of a few months later in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Not only did he resolve his gate issues, Quality Road positively blew away the competition in winning the handicap race by 12 ¾ lengths, breaking his own track record that he set in the Florida Derby.
The ‘Road came back in roaring form, and is now looking to add his name to an illustrious list of such notables as Native Dancer, Kelso, Forego, Ghostzapper, and Holy Bull by winning the historic Met Mile at Belmont Park. The 117th running of the Metropolitan Handicap will match him against a field of seven contenders this Monday, with the most noteworthy of those being Musket Man and Warrior’s Reward, the noses-apart, 1-2 finishers of the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct. Other challengers include Convocation, Kensei, Le Grand Cru, and Tizway.
Quality Road is one of those few horses who can run at just about any distance; he has broken track records three times in two very different distances, separated himself by half a football field from his competition, and has vanquished his own demons. His huge talent and fighting will to keep pressing on make him one of horse racing’s most intriguing success stories, and provide a relatable idol to root for. Somtimes, when the weight of the world rests on our shoulders, we must let someone else carry our spirits; what better, nobler creature could take on such a task than the horse?
The Grade I $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap will be broadcast live from Belmont Park on HRTV and TVG this Monday, May 31st. Post time is scheduled for approximately 4:00pm ET.