BALTIMORE, Md. --- To some, thoroughbred racing is pure sport. Others see it as an opportunity to make a profit at the betting window. But most of those carrying on the work of caring for the horse and preparing it for race day realize it's a business.
For most, making ends meet over the long run is a struggle. But they're all trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
So what happens when the lightning is captured, only to have the bottle break?
One can only imagine the mixed emotions that must have surged through trainer Hal Wiggins as he watched Rachel Alexandra become the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes. Twelve days ago, she was his prize pupil, the heroine of the Kentucky Oaks in such impressive fashion that many observers said she would have won the Kentucky Derby. The next day, she was in someone else's barn.
In the aftermath of the Oaks, Wiggins took the acclaim in stride. At age 66, the native Texan is seasoned and somewhat mellowed. Asked the secret of his success, he would simply answer, "You must be patient in training horses."
Trainer D. Wayne Lucas, whose Flying Private surprised most by finishing fourth in the Preakness, wintered at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas along with Wiggins.
"I got to watch her all winter," Lucas said. "Hal Wiggins did a beautiful job with that filly, bringing her along at just the right tempo."
As spring progressed, about the only thing missing in Rachel Alexandra's rÃ©sumÃ© was a nomination slip to the Triple Crown. Breeder and majority owner Dolphus Morrison didn't believe in running fillies against their male counterparts.
On the Wednesday after the Oaks, Morrison told Wiggins that some people would be coming by to look at the filly. They came, they looked, and they bought -- in the range of $10 million.
What Wiggins is receiving now must seem more like condolences than congratulations.
As he moves forward, Wiggins knows that, for an abbreviated period, he had that "once-in-a-lifetime horse." Business got in the way of him finishing the job.
Here's hoping he gets one more like her.