The Rail Bookshelf: The Racehorse That Brought Us Together

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“Change at Jamaica” by Marshall Messer.Credit BMA Press

The last good time I had with my father was June 9, 1973, watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes.

Having captured the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, Secretariat was pointed toward the Belmont, the third leg of the Triple Crown. Twenty-five years had passed since a single horse, Citation, had won all three races, and the public thrilled to the prospect of a new superhorse.

Secretariat was a tonic for a contentious time. With the Vietnam War finally drawn to a painful close, the country was now riven by the soap opera of Watergate. A week before the Belmont, the Washington Post reported that John Dean, the former White House counsel, would deliver testimony so damaging to Richard Nixon that it could open the way to impeachment. Yet at the racetrack, hawks and doves, conservatives and liberals, construction workers and hippies could all come together to cheer on Secretariat.

The Captain, as we called my father, was a loyal Nixon supporter, and he and I were at political odds. These differences mirrored our personal conflicts, which had brought on an ice age that was going on four years. It had started the summer I was 18, when I worked in his rare coin business. At the time, the Captain was speculating in silver. When he went to Philly for the August coin convention, it was my job to pick up the shipments of coins that came in from dealers around the country each day, drive them to his Midtown Manhattan store, re-count and re-seal the thousand-dollar sacks of quarters and dimes, and transport them to his bank down on Wall Street.

My friends and I had our own convention to attend that weekend: Woodstock. If I made the silver run downtown, I would never get home in time to meet them. To my callow 18-year-old brain, it was no contest. I left $30,000 in bagged coins stacked in neat cairns on the showroom floor and took off.

On returning, I was summarily fired. Still high on three days of peace…

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