The greatest athletes in the world all have one thing in common: they are driven by the pursuit of greatness. It’s what sports is all about. Being better than your opponent, better than the guy behind you, better than who came before and who will come after.
Growing up in Chicago in the 1990’s, I was privileged to see the greatest of all time come of age. Before Michael Jordan ever hugged that first NBA championship trophy in 1992, I knew he was on his way to being the greatest to ever step on a basketball court. I watched nearly every Bulls game in the mid-1990’s, knowing that they were one of the best basketball teams ever assembled. And I appreciated every single one of those games accordingly because I knew, sooner or later, it would all be over.
To be able to appreciate the magnitude of true greatness in real time is quite rare as a sports fan. Secretariat was undoubtedly considered to be one of the greatest race horses of all time, as he was “moving like a tremendous machine” into history in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, but I suspect that countless comparisons to him were made in 1977 and 1978 when Seattle Slew and Affirmed each claimed Triple Crowns of their own. History has flattered Secretariat and cemented his legacy in our minds forever.
Though impossible to compare, I contend that American Pharoah may have been just as talented as Bold Ruler’s most famous son if given the chance. Had he been pushed just a little bit during the first half-mile of last year’s Belmont, Pharoah just may have been able to cross the line in under the 2:24 world record that Big Red set in 1973. But I recognize that my position is certainly debatable. (And after you cite Pharoah’s performance in last year’s Traver’s Stakes, I most likely would be forced to concede the point.)
But with Songbird, there is no debate.
By almost all accounts, the filly out of Medaglia d’Oro is the most talented three-year-old in training, male or female. She is undefeated in six starts, including three Grade I and five graded stakes races, and she has yet to even be tested. She will run in her final “prep” for the Kentucky Oaks this weekend when she competes in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, which I predict will be nothing more than a $400,000 workout, and will go on to romp on the first Friday in May at Churchill Downs. (Many, including her jockey, Mike Smith, say that she could be a force in the Kentucky Derby if she was entered, but her connections have decided against running her against the boys because it would not be in the horse’s best interests.)
It’s rare to spot true greatness in its burgeoning stages, but when you do, being a fan and appreciating it is oh so rewarding. That’s why we spend so much time studying the Kentucky Derby prep races, searching to discover the next superstar before the star is born. And because the horses that turn out to be truly great have such short careers, we horse racing fans are always left looking for that next superstar. It’s one reason, I believe, that horse racing struggles to garner mainstream attention.
As bettors, none of us will ever get rich betting on Songbird. But as sports fans who appreciate excellence, and an athlete performing at the highest level in the world, we should all be appreciating every single race Songbird runs.
Because before we know it, it’ll all be over.