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Good Grief by E.B. Bartels

Good Grief by E.B. Bartels

Author:E.B. Bartels
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2022-05-16T00:00:00+00:00


6

Stallions & Stardom

JUNE 4, 2008, was one of those rainy, bleak New England spring days. But the freezing downpour didn’t matter—it could have been snowing for all I cared—because June 4, 2008, was a big day. I was finally going to the track with my grandfather, Puppy. For my entire life and then some, Puppy had frequented East Boston’s Suffolk Downs horse racing track during afternoon breaks from running his insurance office in Somerville. He didn’t go to the track for the thrill of gambling; he went because he’s obsessed with horses. He memorizes statistics of famous equines, devours books about them. He reads the Daily Racing Form every day. He saw the movies Seabiscuit and Secretariat on their opening nights. He could talk about American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown all day. Puppy first fell in love with horses as a little boy, growing up next door to a man named Paul who had two horses at his house in Somerville. “One was a palomino and one was a retired racehorse who was blind in one eye,” he explained. “One day when I was very small, Paul picked me up and placed me on the back of the palomino and let me ride around his backyard and just—” Puppy’s eyes got wide and bright as he remembered the feeling of being up on that horse, his amazement at the majesty of the animal. “Just wow.” He’s been hooked ever since.

As a kid, I was desperate to go to Suffolk Downs with him, but Puppy never let me tag along. He’d make up some excuse about how the track was full of “degenerates” and change the subject. I pleaded with him for decades until finally, right after my sophomore year of college, he took me and my mother with him one rainy day in June.

The Downs was less glamorous than I had anticipated. The place reeked of decades-stale cigarette smoke, and the wall-to-wall carpet was dusty and worn to the floor in places. (Mom started sneezing as soon as she walked inside—shocker.) When Suffolk Downs stopped live horse racing six years later and then, in 2017, permanently closed—the property sold to a developer—I wasn’t surprised. The place had looked on the verge of shutdown in 2008. But once the horses started running, I saw the appeal. I had never seen horses run a race in real life before. On television all you can see is miniature versions of their bodies, each one topped by a small, brightly colored jockey, as they run the laps. The screen separates you from really feeling the action. But at the track, the horses are so much closer. You can see their tongues hanging out, wild eyes, muscles flexing as they hurtle by. You can hear the pounding of their hooves. Feel the rush of wind as they swoop by. You can tell how hard they are working, and how badly the horses, not just the jockeys, seem to want to win. Mom won $10.40 when a horse named Sweet Jazz placed third, and then another $7.



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