We have barely a month left in 2018, and I’d promised myself I would finish my mystery novel by the end of the year–so, no blogging, Rhonda!–but I feel compelled to write about what I’d held as a private memory of a moment paying my respects to Genuine Risk.
This look back began on Black Friday 2018, when a racing photographer I follow on Facebook posted condolences regarding the passing of a Virginia horsemen I’d met during that Virginia Hunt Country Stable Tour I took in 2009.
My journalism training is summed up in the phrase, “trust but verify,” so I fired up the web browser to seek official confirmation, like an obituary. But I don’t think one had been written yet.
Instead, somehow, I found a recent real estate sales listing Newstead Farm, owned by Bert and Diana Firestone.
As of this writing, the Firestones are fine. Like a lot of people we all know, they’re downsizing, according to an article in the Washington Post.
Listed at $13.5 million, Newstead Farm is a spectacular multi-use equestrian property nestled in the rolling hills of northern Virginia.
The Home of Genuine Risk
It’s also the location of the grave of 1980 Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk, the second filly to win in the race’s storied 106 years.
Of all the real estate listings and all the articles I found on the internet, the Washington Post article I linked to earlier is the only one to mention the property includes the grave of Genuine Risk.
I reckon pretty much every horse farm for sale includes a horse cemetery.
In 2009, when I visited Hunt Country, Genuine Risk had only crossed The Rainbow Bridge, maybe, a year earlier.
Also, in 2009, I had just emerged from five years of treatment for an inflammatory disorder that did its darnedest to take me out. I’d sworn that I’d make horses a bigger part of my life, even if I couldn’t ride. Part of my convalescence was starting this blog in 2008.
While I was in treatment and “surfing” the toxic soup of chemicals that saved my life, I read an article in the Washington Post about the annual Virginia Hunt Country Stable Tour.
I printed out the article, tucked it away, and promised myself that, once I was back on my feet and able to travel, I’d go on that tour.
Come With Me to 2009
My travel buddy Sheryl and I took Amtrak to Alexandria where Enterprise picked us up, and we drove to our hotel outside Dulles Airport.
You long-time readers may even remember the posts I wrote about the weekend.
We visited Newstead Farm on the second day of the tour. By then, I was already feeling ragged from the excitement of the journey, the rigors of the self-guided tour, and the humidity.
A blog post tells how I got requested permission to visit the grave, which wasn’t on the tour.
If you recall, I wouldn’t post a photo of the grave.
Heck, apparently I couldn’t even bring myself to take a close up picture of the grave.
A door to the main house is maybe fifty feet away. The location felt private, secluded, as if Mrs. Firestone could be sipping coffee by a window and gazing at her mare’s newly decorated grave only to spot a tourist snapping photos.
Yeesh. It had been less than a year since the mare’s passing. I would not be that boor.
Back to 2018
On a Facebook group where I’m active, I’d mentioned a few months ago around Derby time that I’d seen the grave and wouldn’t post a photo for reasons of privacy.
One of the group’s users scoffed, but I’d promised that tour guide it would be a private moment. And I’ve kept it that promise.
So, why now?
The truth is, I’m not sure why. In some respects, I’m not sure my motives bear close scrutiny.
A promise is a promise, and I take promises seriously. I’ve kept many over my lifetime, hope to keep many more, and I’ll continue to keep them when my time here is up.
But also that same training to “trust but verify” also insists we be the first to report. While clicking around the sales descriptions of Newstead Farm, I found a much better photo from a Flickr account taken in 2012.
Despite my promise and the care I take with my ethics, that I got scooped rankled.
Perhaps the grave had become part of the tour after three years.
What rankles most is, I guess I didn’t even take a close up of the grave. I remember worrying about being chased off, so I only took respectful wide shots, making them lousy photos.
Also, this year, farewell, Genuine Reward
This year, also marks the passing of Genuine Reward one of Genuine Risk’s two foals. He passed away in comfort at Old Friends Kentucky, thanks to the generosity of author of SEABISCUIT: AN AMERICAN LEGEND Laura Hillenbrand and Perk Connell, president of the the Big Horn Polo Club.
I seem to have trouble letting go. It’s why I’m surrounded by books I’ve read and stowed.
Why I have four little tins of pet ashes I can’t bring myself to commit back to the earth for fear I might have to leave them. At least, in their containers, they can move with us. I still feel like I’m their steward.
I hold promises dear, maybe even beyond expectations, and I’m a perfectionist who frets over her flaws.
Maybe it’s why I’m having trouble finishing writing my novel.
Meanwhile, as I searched, and clicked and wrote this post, I received my confirmation on the loss of the Virginia gentleman I met at a barn on a muggy Sunday morning.
Update: My post about my memories of Virginia horseman Bruce Smart.