Six Wise Words

Rosh HaShanah Contemporary Service

Monday, September 14, 2015

I don’t usually follow sports too closely. Of course, Iroot for the Rockies and the Broncos because if I don’t, I will be in troublewith my in-laws. There is always a place in my heart for the Wildcats.

I occasionally pick up the sports page and read the boxscores or read about something extraordinary that a sports figure hasaccomplished. The other reason I read the sports page on occasion is becausethe sports page is the only place where everyone plays by the same rules andwhere you can believe that what is being reported is what actually happened.You can’t say that about many other news stories that you read in thenewspapers or see on the news.

Oh yes, of course I follow my son’s college basketballteam, the Skidmore Thoroughbreds. They are the Thoroughbreds because the campusis found in Saratoga Springs where there is located a famous horseracing track. 

As long as we are on the subject of horse racing….

On June 6 American Pharaoh came out of the far turn andsquared his shoulders to let his rider Victor Espinoza stare down the stretchof Belmont Park, a sense of inevitability surged through the grandstand. On thetips of their toes, 100,000 spectators stood and let out a roar as the 37-yearsearch for the next greatest race horse was coming to an end.

There have been only 11 Triple Crown winners in historyand we have elected five presidents, fought three wars and lived through threeeconomic downturns since Affirmed had last completed the feat in 1978. 

The colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert, standing next to his21-year-old daughter, Savannah, shot his fist in the air and turned to hiswife, Jill. “That it.” She turned and threw her arms around her husband’sshoulders and cried out, “You did it.” 

As I watched this remarkable race, I was transported toa similar attempt at the Triple Crown 17 years ago on the same 1 ½ mile track.Victory Gallop had started the Kentucky Derby in dead last behind 14 otherhorses at the ½ mile pole. Then he made a powerful drive but ran out of trackand finished second to Real Quiet. At the Preakness, he again finished secondto Real Quiet. 

The Belmont on June 8, 1998 was no ordinary race. Itwas a thrilling race. It had been twenty years since Affirmed had won theTriple Crown. By the way, the trainer for Real Quiet, the Triple Crown hopefulwas the same trainer of American Pharaoh, our very own Arizonan native, BobBaffert.

It was a photo finish and it wasn’t until the judgesexamined the film that they were able to say definitively that Victory Galluphad, this time, beaten Real Quiet by inches, literally by a nose.

What was impressive that day was not the upset by anose. What was impressive were six words that were spoken by a four-year-old,that a reporter happened to catch and put into her broadcast. Those six wordsmay be the most important words you will hear this year.

During the race cameras caught Baffert standing up inhis box and cheering as his horse led all through the race. Real Quiet wasabout to be the first Triple Crown winner in 20 years. You could see theexcitement on his face every time the camera came his way. As he turned for thefinal stretch Real Quiet took a commanding three-length lead.

And then, in the very last mili-second of the race, hishorse lost to Victory Gallop. Bob Baffert would not go down in the historybooks as the trainer of a Triple Crown winner. His horse was not going to winthe ½ million dollar prize for this race and he would not win the five milliondollar bonus from VISA for having won all three races. In a flash, so quickthat machinery could barely record it, all these prizes disappeared, and bobBaffert became the trainer of the race horse that came in second, which isanother way of say that he became a loser.

The camera caught the transformation on his face, fromjoy to disbelief, from ecstasy to disappointment. It captured the look ofbewilderment and shock and then deep sorrow. As the crowd around him went wildin the stands, you could see him slump down. Everything he had worked for,waited for, hoped for, for so many months had come to nothing in a fraction ofa second. 

He was holding his four-year-old daughter Savannah, inhis arms all during the race, lifting her up so that she could watch the race.Leslie Visser, ABC reporter was standing nearby. Usually there is a reporterstanding by when a public figure says something dumb. This time Leslie wasstanding nearby when someone said something smart.

“Atthe eighth pole, I thought we had it,” Baffert said. “I started getting alldifferent emotions. I thought we might have held on, but photos can be cruel.“What got me through was my little Savannah, my 4-year-old daughter. When theyfinally put up the numbers, my wife said, `We lost.’ I said, `Yeah, we lost.’And my daughter looked up and said, `But Daddy, you still have me,’ and shegave me a kiss.”

Those were very wise words coming from a 4-year-old. Iam sure that many times since that disappointing loss, Bob and his wife thoughtabout those words.

I hope that in the coming new year, when things gobadly for us – and there will be some such days, if this is a normal year – Ihope that during those days, we will think about what she said too.

For when we lose the raffle, a cash bonus or thelottery that might have given us many luxuries, or a job that we really wantedto have, or the tennis game that we felt we should have won, or something elsethat hurts to lose, we need to remember what really counts the most in life andwhat doesn’t.

If you still have a child or a grandchild or a spouseor a friend or your health, then ‘nu’ – when life doesn’t serve up roses or thepot of gold – those things, which in reality carry little value in the wholescheme of things…remember what Savannah said to her parents that day and takeit to heart.

That day Bob Baffert and his wife really were TripleCrown winners; perhaps not at Belmont, but at life. At that moment, when hisdaughter spoke those words it didn’t matter whether his horse came in second orlast place. 

Life does not last forever, but relationships do. Keepyour priorities straight and know what really counts and what doesn’t in therace of life.

The Talmud teaches us: It is incumbent on a man toconsume food and drink that cost less than he can afford; to wear clothes thathe can afford; and to show honor to his wife and children beyond what he canafford.

When your friends ask you if the rabbi gave you hell onthe High Holy Days, tell them,  “Hegave me paradise in six words, ‘But Daddy, you still have me.’” Change thosewords to fit the relationship that counts for you to remind yourself of what isreally important this year.

May we be spared from many defeats in the New Year. Butif we face them, let us remember the wise words with which Bob Baffert’sdaughter comforted him, and may they comfort us too.

L’shana tova tikateyvu.

Adapted from a story by Rabbi JackReimer