Saturday was my joint graduation party with my brother who graduated high school. Really, it was just an excuse for my dad to invite everyone he knew to one spot (his best friend's house) for lots of food, drink and high spirits. Not quite by accident, it was also a Belmont party.
Everyone knew how important the race was to me. Some found it funny. Some took it just as serious as I did. One young man took it as an invitation to tease me. "The horse is gonna lose," he repeated at least 500 times. "I don't know what you're worried about, Smarty is going to lose. It's Philadelphia, we always lose." To which I replied, "Smarty won't let me down."
Well, Smarty let me down.
The race was excellent, for a non-Smarty fan. There was competition, close-calls, excitement. Everything a horse race should be. Except for Smarty fans. For us, it was devastating. Smarty wasn't supposed to have competition. There's no such thing as a close-call or an almost close-call or a close follow to Smarty. Our excitement was shown in the form of yelling, screaming "NO! NO!" as Number 4 inched past. I certainly was screaming. A few choice words came out of my mouth. Keep in mind I was surrounded by family members and neighbors who'd seen me grow up. Now they were just sort of staring at me in amazement.
When the race ended, I just sat there, crushed. Then I grabbed my bottle of wine by the neck and dragged it outside in the rain where I consumed as much of it as possible in as short amount of time as possible.
Then I called everyone I knew. Some people laughed (ahem, sinner Dennis J. Wright), one said he didn't really care (that would be the ex-boyfriend, grr) and some tried comforting me and joined me in referring to the winning horse, Birdstone, as "Bird crap" (true friends right there!).
I stood in the rain and exclaimed "Philly is a city of losers!"
Of course, by the end of the night - a bottle of wine, two beers and a shot of whiskey later - I forgot all about Smarty Jones and found myself singing "Lady Marmalade" with my brother's girlfriend.
The next day I avoided the subject all together. I wouldn't let anyone mention it (most were afraid anyway), I promptly changed the channel if they started replaying the tragedy, and I didn't listen to KYW in the car - my daily habit. Rather, I needed time to think about this alone.
Yes, it's crazy to be so upset over a horse. One race, one loss. True, horse racing is the single sport I've ever gotten into and I love gambling. But it wasn't about gambling or choosing a winner. It was about pride, having something to believe in. The blood in my veins is 100 percent Philadelphia, born and raised. I have immense pride for my city. Even though I live outside the city now, I still consider it my home. Smarty was going to be our Philadelphia pride. We needed it.
But you know, I'm still proud of Smarty. So he didn't win one race. He won eight. For the race he lost, he came in second place. Not bad, Smarty. I often come in second place. From the time I was in Preschool and won the "Second Achiever" award to the time I graduated college with the second to best honors, I've always been that much shy of first place. To tell you the truth, it doesn't really bother me. I know that I did my best and put all of myself into everything I set out to do.
And though I was devastated after the Belmont, I'm beginning to get over it. Smarty is still a champion. He's definitely a winner. And Philadelphia isn't a city of losers, it's a city of those who put their heart and soul into everything they do. We may not have the Triple Crown title, we may not have had a chance at the Stanley Cup or any of those other sports that I know nothing about. But we still have our pride.
One thing to keep in mind for future, perhaps, is our tendency to jump the gun. Maybe, just maybe, it was a little much to declare days "Smarty Jones' day," name roads after him, give him his own "column" in newspapers and start writing the screenplay for the movie of his life. But hey, we're just an excitable people. We've got soul. And while we face disappointments, and more are sure to come, we'll never lose our sense of hope, our undeniable excitement, and our indefatigable pride.
Jessica Sycz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org