I’m a little late and a dollar short (like most of my trips to Oaklawn!) but this column on the horse races is way overdue.
I’ve been going to the races for as long as I can remember. It started with my grandpa, “Poppy.” The father of three girls, Pop liked golf, football, shooting pool, and horse racing. More than anything, though, Pop liked me — he loved me — his youngest grandson. His little quarterback.
He taught me how to throw a football. Told me to “put my fingers on the laces and flick it like a booger.” He was the one that took me to the races the first time. We made the drive from Forrest City over to Hot Springs in his Cadillac. When we arrived, Pop found a parking spot right up front. One of his favorite sayings was, “There’s always room at the top.”
Once we got inside, Poppy taught me how to pick a winner. He took me down to the paddocks and we watched the horses as they came in. He wanted a “feisty” horse, but one that wasn’t “too crazy.” Pop also liked it if a horse pooped before the race. He said, “A light horse is hard to beat.”
I don’t remember if we won any money on my inaugural trip to Oaklawn, but I remember Pop, chatting it up with all the other old dudes, having a really good time. I think I was around five that first time he took me.
Pop died when I was thirteen years old.
I kept going to the races, though. When I was in college and racing season rolled around, you could find me and a whole crew of Ouachita Baptist Football players down at the paddocks, looking for horses with big bowel movements.
After I graduated, I married into racing. My wife’s grandfather, a man she also refers to as “Pop,” is a horse-racing enthusiast. For years, you could find him at Oaklawn every Saturday of the racing season. Then, two years ago, Pop stopped making the drive.
That gave my wife and me an idea; we could take him.
We took Pop to the races this year on the last weekend of racing season, the same day as the Kentucky Derby. Our daughter Emmy came along too. The weather was beautiful and we had a blast, but there was this moment, toward the end of the day, that I’ll never forget.
We were down by the paddocks, Em pressed up against the guardrail, listening to me as I told her we were looking for a “feisty” horse that had just gone poop. But it was like I could feel somebody else there too. I turned around slowly, just as Emmy blurted out, “Poop! Poop!” Standing behind us, I saw only my wife and her grandfather, but I couldn’t help feeling like there were two Pops at the races that day.
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