When I started this blog over seven years ago, I always said I’d write about the good times as well as the bad times. I’ve been pretty true to my word with one very big exception. What I have avoided is something we never saw coming back in 2009. While we all knew that our run with In Over My Head would eventually come to an end, we had no idea just how difficult it would be. After about four months, I think it is finally time to finish the story and share the part that was not talked about.
I’ll summarize as simply as I can:
On October 23, 2015 we sold In Over My Head.
On November 4, 2015 Greg Carey passed away.
This entire endeavor has been about In Over My Head, our relationships with the horses and the experience we shared, but I was intentionally leaving out a big piece of the narrative. It wasn’t my place to discuss Greg’s battle with cancer.
The last time I spoke with Greg on the phone was just after we made official arrangements to sell In Over My Head. Life was getting tough for him at that point, but he had somehow managed to maintain and almost unbelievably strong and upbeat attitude when we’d talk on the phone or get together. I’d always tell people that if you talked to Greg on the phone, you’d never know he was sick.
On the day we talked about In Over My Head he was extra upbeat. We could all feel the combined relief that we had closed the book on a wonderful adventure in such a good way by giving Mo a chance to be a stallion. Greg knew he would never personally see Mo’s offspring on the racetrack, but he did know the legacy would live on. I think it brought him some peace. That horse meant the world to him.
I have always been drawn to the iconic speech that coach Jim Valvano gave at the ESPY’s in 1993. It was something that I always wanted to watch, but at the same time thought about avoiding because it was so gut-wrenching. His body was failing him when he gave that speech, but his spirit was so strong it was as if he was able to rise above the fray of his own fight. The speech was truly inspiring with words that will always stick with me:
“Cancer can take my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”
Now imagine watching someone go through a similar challenge with one big difference. The person bravely battling through cancer isn’t a famous coach talking on TV…it’s someone you love. It is equal parts inspiring and sad. The thought of it now still gives me a rush of sorrow, yet at the same time makes me want to jump out of my chair and go do something…anything…to enjoy all the blessings that I have in life.
Despite the desire to continue to try and live life to the fullest, the slow march to the inevitable ending was a tough one. As a part of those preparations we had to sell our horses. It was an easy thing for us to talk about at first because we still had some time. The sands in the hourglass were getting low, but we knew they weren’t running out just yet. I do remember the day that John Butenschoen called me and gave me the news that we found a buyer for Don’t Tell Wayne. Reality set in quickly and I was immediately nervous. I asked him what price the buyers had offered. When he told me I couldn’t hold it together very well. The offer was exactly what we had been hoping for, but I knew what it meant. We were one step closer to not owning horses together anymore.
The sale of In Over My Head was the last piece needed to complete the puzzle none of us wanted to finish. Danny made it his personal mission to find Mo a good home. He worked so hard to make it happen and found a way to pulled it off. It is probably fitting that the last last conversation I had with Greg was about the horse that brought us even closer together and brought us so much joy. It was even more fitting that Danny and I called Greg together that night. While I will always regret not having one last time to talk, I am glad that our last conversation was such a positive one.
Owning horses with Greg was so rewarding and so much fun. Now that it’s over I feel tired. Horse racing is a family legacy thing with us. We’ve carried the torch up and down a long path full of celebration, frustration and at the end sorrow. It feels like it is over. It feels like we should just set the torch down and step away. I’ve asked myself the question more than few times, is now a good time to walk away from racing? How can we top what has happened? It feels empty without Greg and I’m not sure how that’s going to change. We made a nice profit off our last couple horses…should we just take our chips off the table?
Well, taking chips off the table would probably be the smart thing to do, but it rarely leads to an adventure of a lifetime. I went back to my first post of this blog from January of 2009 and was quickly reminded that I probably should have never bought In Over My Head in the first place, but look where that took us. This last fall, Danny and I had a decision to make. Do we continue to forge ahead with this incredibly unique passion of owning race horses or do we do the smart thing and just quit while we are ahead?
We decided to try and forge ahead, but ran into an issue that made us think that we made the wrong decision. We had scheduled a trip down to Lexington in October to try and find a yearling, but the night before were we suppose to leave we had to cancel the trip due to Greg’s condition. We were really down, but decided to sent a few hip numbers down to John and said if he can could get any for less than $20,000, we’d take a piece. As fate would have it, he was able to purchase one of the horses we had targeted and now we own 50% of a two year old colt out of Rocknroll Hanover. Greg would certainly be proud.
I’d be lying if I said I’m as excited about this colt as I was when we bought In Over My Head (or Showtime Shark or Don’t Tell Wayne), but that can change. We are still trying to bounce back. While, it feels empty without Greg, I know he’s’ smiling down on us giving us encouragement to just enjoy the ride. He loved being around horse racing and both Danny and I want to march forward not only for our own enjoyment, but for Greg too.
There is nothing like owning a racehorse. No experience offers the same range of emotions, but as I’ve learned over the past six years there is REALLY nothing like owning a racehorse with people you care about. You will go on a journey together. There is no itinerary. You just need to go with the flow and adjust on the fly.
In order to really try and drive home the importance racing has had on our family, I leave you with this. Grandpa was buried with a horse blanket that Speedy Rodney won in a big race out at Yonkers in 1965. Greg was buried with the blanket that In Over My Head won in the Windy City Pace in 2009. Danny and I don’t have any blankets, nor do we have the financial wherewithal to make too many more runs at this. If we end up with a couple of duds, the flame will burn out. That’s just the harsh reality.
Then again who knows…maybe we will get lucky again.