Sometimes in racing you can win without winning. And other times, a win can mean more than you know.
Lacey Gaudet is young. Her training career is much, much closer to its beginning than its end — 235 career starts to date. And while wisdom typically comes with age, the benefit of being young is that you can afford to take the long view.
Arnold Heft, on the other hand, is 94 years old. He’s owned horses for more than two decades, and as he put it on Saturday — albeit in a resonant voice that suggests he doesn’t quite mean it — doesn’t know if he’ll be around tomorrow.
The two of them, young and old, collided in Saturday’s Maryland Million Classic, and while perhaps the race itself was not a classic, it was in its way fraught with other meaning.
Though young, Gaudet has been around the game her entire life. Her octogenarian father Eddie was a Maryland training fixture for decades, retiring in 2011 after fifty-plus years as a trainer and more than 1,700 wins. Her mother Linda subsequently took the reins of the family training business, and sister Gabby is the on-air analyst for the Maryland Jockey Club. Yet Wild Louis was, on Saturday, the family’s first Maryland Million Classic starter.
Meanwhile, for Heft, his Eighttofasttocatch was the overwhelming favorite to annex his second Classic in three years. With a vast class edge — and status as the lone speed horse in the group — he figured to take the field gate to wire.
And therein lies the tale. For Gaudet, the goal was less for Wild Louis to win than for him to show he belonged with that kind of company. “It’s always exciting” to have a horse in on a day like Maryland Million day, she said. And Wild Louis did his part, running a solid third. Though never a threat to win, he proved he could compete at a high level. And, to Team Gaudet, that felt like victory.
Heft’s goals were loftier — and more urgent. Eighttofasttocatch took command early and never looked back, cruising to a three-length win. In the winner’s circle afterwards, Heft, a former minor-league pitcher, compared the feeling to what it might have felt like to pitch in the World Series. His daughter Barbara wrestled with her emotions before answering a question. And jockey Forest Boyce leaned to down to kiss the wheelchair-bound Heft on the cheek. It was a victory that felt like something more.
No, as a horse race, it wasn’t a great race. But in its way, it was a Classic.
(Featured image, of Eighttofasttocatch, by Laurie Asseo.)