Monday, August 14, 2006
An Anecdote of Some Interest
Satanic Majesty stood in the Winner's Circle at Pimlico a giant among three-year-olds.
He had just completed the wholesale destruction of the field in the Argent Dixie Stakes -- its purse of $250,000 traditionally as desperately contested as the more famous Preakness run on the same grounds. Track records from Churchill Downs to Gulfstream Park had earlier that year fallen before his mighty hooves and thrashing haunches, and in some of the Sport of Kings' more louche quarters rumors flew that he must have sold his soul to Old Scratch himself at a Mississippi crossroads in the dead of night.
Whether this transaction ever actually took place was a well-kept secret between the thoroughbred and his owner, Mrs. Evelyn Pudleyshawe-Smythe, a Margaret-Dumont-esque woman of daunting visage and even more daunting décolletage. Mrs. P-S, as she was known among the stablehands she regularly cowed with a haughty glare and a finely honed tongue, was, as she regally declared to overcurious newshounds and the ink-stained wretches of the racing press, not accustomed to invasions of her privacy or revelations of what she deemed fripperies, and so the rumors of Satanic Majesty's origin flew unchecked.
Some gossips were convinced that his lineage included true royalty -- a direct line to the legendary Secretariat, or perhaps Man o' War. Others insisted, on no evidence whatever, that his was a Horatio Alger story, a ragamuffin guttersnipe who had escaped the knacker's yard by dint of a magnificent riderless run around Mrs. P-S's training track after appearing spontaneously out of a misty cornfield one cold November morning.
The truth, as it so often does, lay somewhere in between. Satanic Majesty's dam had been a racer herself, a well-bred but mediocre talent notable mainly for her dreadfulness in the home stretch, during which she faded faster than the shine on a pewter chamber-pot. His sire, however, was an altogether more interesting story. A pacer at a local trainer's facility, a roan stallion whose chief interest in life was oats and unpaid stud service, he had caught the eye of a local thug who wanted a gentle horse for his social-climbing daughter to ride with her country-club pals. The miscreant had backed a trailer up to the trainer's barn one day, claiming to be delivering a load of fresh sugar-cubes, and made off with the horse.
On the getaway, however, an inattentive lackey had taken a corner too sharply, the trailer had come unmoored, and the badly frightened stallion had escaped into the surrounding fields, where he eventually found a ranch, jumped a fence, and sired Satanic Majesty.
Mrs. P-S's avarice turned toward the heady stud fees her world-famous champion would now fetch. As she proudly led the magnificent beast away from the scene of his latest conquest, she summoned the equine genealogist she had hired to ascertain the bloodline of her prized possession. "Well, Hensley?" she enquired expansively. "What have you found?"
"It's not good news, Mrs. P-S," stammered the nervous gene-detective. "Not good at all, I'm afraid."
"What on earth are you talking about, you silly little man! This horse has won every race he's entered, including the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and several Breeder's Cup events! You can't possibly convince me that his lineage is anything but perfectly spotless!"
"Yes, ma'am, I agree he's quite a horse, no doubt about that --"
"Then what's the problem? Don't stand there gaping, you ninny -- out with it!"
"Well, Mama's all right, she checks out just fine. Her lineage is pretty much impeccable --"
"Yes, yes! Get on with it!"
"It's Papa. I can't believe what we've uncovered, but I'm sure it's the truth..."
"Say it, man!"
"Ma'am. I'm sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, but --"
"Papa was a stolen roan."