What I learned from Seeking the Gold
When news came this morning of Seeking the Gold’s passing, it reminded me of how much I learned from the trajectory of his career.
Here was a horse tailor-made for my support: a blueblood Phipps homebred, trained by Shug McGaughey. After all, I hopped onto the Personal Ensign bandwagon very early, even before her serious injury at two. Excited beyond belief to have gotten on the “ground floor” with a future Hall of Famer, I later glommed onto Easy Goer when he was a once-raced maiden.
But in between those titans, I somehow missed the boat on Seeking the Gold. My initial, mistaken judgment set me up for a teachable season, so to speak, and by the end, I loved Seeking the Gold.
My cardinal error was taking too much to heart his losses to Private Terms in the 1988 Gotham (G2) and Wood Memorial (G1). I didn’t remember the details until just looking them up for this blog, and I can’t recall if I gave him something of a pass for his traffic trouble in the Gotham or not. What was emblazoned in my mind was the fact that Private Terms simply beat him. If Seeking the Gold were as good as advertised, he would have won those, right? So goes teen logic. Although he turned the tables when they were seventh and ninth, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby (G1), it made me think less of Private Terms without revising my lukewarm opinion of Seeking the Gold.
Over the summer, Seeking the Gold rebounded in style in the Peter Pan (G2) and Dwyer (G1). That was nice to see him regain the winning thread, but again, it didn’t prompt me to re-evaluate his ranking in the division. He wasn’t up against Risen Star or Forty Niner there, was he?
Roll onto the Haskell (G1), and imagine my surprise to see Seeking the Gold nearly upsetting Forty Niner.
I took Seeking the Gold much more seriously in their rematch in the Travers (G1). Still, I wanted Forty Niner to confirm the form – he was the better one all along, right? – and celebrated when he did, barely.
Seeking the Gold was entitled to win the Super Derby (G1), so when he next lined up versus Alysheba, Forty Niner, Cryptoclearance et al in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), I relapsed into underestimating him. In the homestretch, when my personal favorites were beaten, I cheered my heart out for the only horse left to challenge my nemesis Alysheba – Seeking the Gold. He came up a half-length shy against a future Hall of Famer, but Seeking the Gold had finally won me over.
The lesson? That horses aren’t static creatures, or locked into fixed orbits in relation to each other. Each is on a unique arc of development, and their formline is a work in progress (or regress, as the case may be).
It was a lesson I should have learned over my few previous years as a very young racing fan. Perhaps it was obscured by own personal proclivities, rooting interests, and biases. But Seeking the Gold exposed it, and made me aware of it, precisely because he was “my kind” of horse – one I should have regarded more highly, if it hadn’t been for that pesky Private Terms back at Aqueduct.
Fast forward three decades, and my approach can be a little too elastic now, foreseeing development that’s just not there, or being too willing to entertain a shake-up of the established order. But I’m still capable of carrying around excess baggage when it comes to formlines, and that’s when I need to recall the lesson of Seeking the Gold.
Photo courtesy of Claiborne Farm via Twitter