When the news recently broke that Admirals Express had passed away, it seemed like everyone even moderately interested in harness racing was touched. A genuine outpouring of emotion and memories came flooding to the surface, and each of us were able to reach into our pasts and relive a moment.
Was he the most talented standardbred horse there ever was? Absolutely not, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that he lacked the finest breeding. It didn’t matter that his conformation wasn’t perfect. It didn’t matter that his stride left a little to be desired and it didn’t matter that he never jumped up in class to win the Graduate or the Canadian Pacing Derby.
To us, what we saw in Admirals Express was who we strive to be. He was courageous, unwavering and a little bit flashy. He was a horse who demanded respect, and in return offered each of us more than we could ever ask from him.
People who love horses, and those who appreciate horse racing, understand that in the world of sports, there is nothing more inspiring and emotionally connecting than an equine hero – and there have been none better than Admirals Express.
Ask yourself: who is the most beloved athlete in history? Who comes to mind? Names like Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth and Muhammed Ali pop into my head. A Google search on “the most loved athletes of all time” revealed a 2008 story that lists Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Brett Favre as one, two and three. Really? That’s the best they’ve got?
As objectively as I can look at it, no human athlete throughout history has been able to reach us emotionally the way a racehorse can. Whether it’s Secretariat, Cam Fella, Barbaro or Admirals Express, there is an attachment we can make with a racehorse that no other sports figure seems capable of. And the connection doesn’t depend on meeting the horse, feeding him carrots, or spending time in his stall. The connection can be made from 1,000 miles away through an out of focus television screen.
For those of us who realize this fact, 2010 is an excellent year. While Secretariat graces our movie screens, Zenyatta is poised to make her grand finale in the Breeders Cup in early November. She’ll be looking to beat the boys and finish her career a perfect 20 for 20, and arguably stamp herself as the greatest racehorse of all time. Rocknroll Heaven has brightened up our autumn, and thousands of horses across the continent make special connections with the people they come into contact with daily.
Why is a racehorse able to make a personal connection to us that no human can? Perhaps it’s because the greatness of a horse is not rewarded with million dollar contracts or endorsement deals. Success doesn’t go to the heads of our equine heroes. They don’t become arrogant, self-absorbed or sheltered. They are who they are and the inspiration they provide comes free of charge.
I cheered when Gretzky lifted the Stanley Cup, appreciated when cyclist Lance Armstrong captured his seventh Tour de France, and smiled when swimmer Michael Phelps won eight gold medals.
But, for pure inspiration, true grit and greatness, I’ll direct your attention to the Grey Gladiator. In Admirals Express we saw a role model. A horse that inspired each of us to be a little bit better. And for that, we say... thank you.