For nearly four decades Ernie Munick has been giving his heart and mind to thoroughbred racing. He is a writer, a vlogger , a musician, but most devotedly a handicapper and horseplayer. He can be seen twice a week on the NYRA Network's RACEDAY, and his videos for the Breeders' Cup can be found by clicking here.
They are summoned from their vast adjoining paddocks, and it doesn't take long for a Triple Crown winner to get to where he needs to go. This is inconsequential and even a wee bit childish but Seattle Slew gets there first. They are barebacked and unbridled, with a tiny patch of gray beneath each of their forelocks in a nod to The Bid. They know who belongs; it's never quite right without him.
This is an emergency session. Despite the many dual jewel winners of the modern era - Afleet Alex, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Charismatic, War Emblem, Thunder Gulch - there is a horse this year who has especially excited the electorate. But you could never tell. Gallant Fox grazes near his son, Omaha. Affirmed and Assault compare necks that won Preaknesses 32 years apart. There are no egos in the courtyard; communication, though imperceptible to humans, flows freely on admiration and the highest repute. The Big Reds approve each other's nicknames.
It is time. As the only one of them to have entered their alliance undefeated, Slew leads the way and they begin to take a circular shape. A heavy wooden door swings open and through the cobblestoned archway (Johnny Velazquez lowering his head) clops an iron-shouldered, heavy-hipped chestnut colt whose feet are soon quieted by the finest of soil and grass. Sir Barton and Citation step out and to the side of the circle, leaving room for the subject, his rider and his trainer, and in synchronized strides - step, step, pause…step, step, pause…they settle at the center of the Immortal Wheel.
V is wearing house silks: all white, gold thunderbolt back, gold winged cap. Todd Pletcher is wrinkle-free and reading a condition book. The colt has a humble gate, head relatively low, yet an imposing Roman nose. He is light of foot for his size, creating consecutive perfect trips, although there is some lumber in him. He is built for heavy terrain and exacting schedules but so was Point Given. Someone's lying on his stomach peeking at the proceedings through the paddock fence, hard to make out, possibly Angel Cordero, Jr.
First, is the name worthy? Eleven Triple Crown winners in 135 years and none can agree on the name. Seattle Slew, who always votes last, decides the proper pronunciation for humans should be ess KEN deh raya.
Slew abstains from the pedigree vote - he is the subject's damsire.
They are uniform in their approval of V as a good worthy man, and that Pletcher with shelves of awards has suffered enough in Louisville. The ownership issue is untidy but the fault of neither athletes nor conditioner.
Slew motions Eskendereya, V and Pletcher to turn once around; now the other way. Now stop, Slews says, and don't move. The Immortal Wheel begins to circle around the nervous hub. This lasts precisely five minutes. There's just enough breeze in the sun to hear the outlying maples. V's eyes shift down to Pletcher's, whose eyes shift to Eskendereya's, whose eyes shift up to V's. Pletcher very slowly begins to turn his watch.
And just like that it is over. The Immortals are exchanging knowing nods. There is only harmony in the courtyard, never any flies. Sir Barton and Citation make way for the subjects and step, step, pause…step, step, pause they go as Cordero in a low crouch is running off into the endless acreage. The votes don't begin dribbling in until next Saturday.