The Preakness unfolded as a glorious day in Maryland. And then, as if to shed tears for Barbero, the rains came. Oddly, as the horses made their way to the starting gate, a shaft of sunlight cast a spell over the homestretch.
A bittersweet day: thoughts of Barbero amid good wishes for the Kentucky Derby winner and his quirky jockey as they attempted the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
This year’s Preakness will likely be remembered for the home stretch battle. Two thoroughbreds slugging it out on a muddy track. Few may remember how it started. But wait. Last year’s Preakness began when Barbero went down with what ended up to be a life ending injury.
This year’s Preakness started out with what could have been a repeat of that heart wrenching start. A horse, a beautiful copper colored horse with a white blaze down his face, falling to his knees as the gate opened. This year there was no life ending injury and the story might end there.
But not this story, not on this day. Curlin was the copper horse who got off to bad start and almost went to his knees. Although unhurt, a start like that is usually devastating: mentally if not physically. It was a momentum breaking lapse. Chronologically, if not physically.
After all there are not even two minutes in an entire race. That is not a lot of time to make up for lost time. Imagine starting out with a huge misstep: your cadence gone, your confidence jolted, your courage vacillating. But wait, Curlin maintained his rhythm and kept coming. And he kept coming and coming. Past Xchanger, past Hard Spun, past Flying First Class. In a home stretch battle that lasted 40 yards, he took on the leader, Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, and fought past him to win the Preakness by a nose.
What business lessons can we learn from the back of a horse?
1. Don’t Peak Too Soon
It is every athlete’s challenge to not peak too soon. A horse is just an athlete with four legs. USA Today said that one of the reasons that athletes have an edge on the popular TV show Dancing With the Stars is that athletes know when to peak. Do You? Run-throughs and dress rehearsals are important in any profession whether they are figurative or literal rehearsals. But being great on Tuesday when the presentation is on Friday will not put you in the Winner’s Circle. Being great at feeling and acting like a peer in your office, but not able to replicate that on game day, will bring you in the barn way after the race is over.
2. A True Champion Comes from Behind
Street Sense appeared destined to be on his way to the Belmont with a chance to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed in 1978. Curlin nailed him in the final stride to win by a head and end the dream of the Kentucky Derby winner’s camp. Curlin and jockey Robby Albarado didn’t give up. Not when they came in third at the Derby, not when the jockey had a bad spill prior to the race, not when they stumbled out of the gate. Would you have given up?
Curlin had to battle back from a bad beginning. Whether it’s a bad beginning in life or in your presentation, or in your profession, can you, like Curlin, battle back to win?
3. Raise Him Up and Go with Him
This is a horse term which can be applied to business. A horse has to be in the bridle, carrying the bridle and himself well. So does your business. The best jockeys have confidence in their mount. You hear that over and over again. Good trainers listen to their jockey, and a good jockey listens to their horse. When the time comes whether it is a ribbon or a million dollars at stake, the good ones have the confidence to raise them up and go with them. Do you?
After Street Sense with Calvin Borel aboard won the Kentucky Derby, writers said he was almost illiterate. Calvin embraced the criticism, he didn’t disagree. He said while he might not be able to read a book, he could read a horse, and not many people can do that. I loved his answer. He understands and values his strengths. Do You?
Do you spend more time thinking about your weaknesses than you do your strengths? This 114 pound jockey is able to relish his assets. Up until he left the 8th grade he said he carried two things to school: books and a whip. He loved the whip more so he left school. Do you know what you love and what you are willing to give up to get it?
In horse racing and business, winning by a nose is still winning.