by David Mattia
There’s a very old and very wise Yiddish proverb which, when translated, spells out quite simply, “Man plans, and God laughs.” Think about it for a moment. It’s an incredibly insightful concept brought to us by the great wisdom of the Hebrew people.
Five little words: “Man plans and God laughs.”
It’s crazy-brilliant because it’s insanely true. In the life of a harness racing person, it’s a truism that’s even truer than true. We get up, get out of bed, drag a comb across our head, and set out to a special place where temperamental creatures sit and wait for us to do their bidding. That special place is a barn, and the godlike creatures we find therein are the horses we choose to idolize.
Sometimes we arrive to find a Garden of Eden, and other times we come upon Armageddon. All manner of a horseman’s destiny are placed unto the decorated hooves of heavenly creatures who make hellish demands.
If human beings were forced to acknowledge and accept and resign themselves to one, and only one life lesson, the aforementioned Yiddish piece of wisdom is the cornerstone upon which one should set out to build all hopes and all dreams for what is to come.
Even if you don’t believe in God, the rule still applies — it’s just not as much fun. The idea of some greater power giggling behind your back while you struggle to achieve in life makes the achievements you actually achieve so much more gratifying. Sadly, it serves also to remind us that nothing ever turns out quite the way we planned.
Ultimately, in the world of the racehorse, the horse goes on to become the reigning deity who gets the last laugh. To the mortal folks who toil in racing, the horse is the rising sun and the misbegotten moon. And while many pray to other gods or stars or runes for health, wealth and happiness, the horse is ultimately the golden idol. The horse is a god, but does HE too really laugh at our best laid plans? Does SHE, the gentle mare with her kind eye and delicate lashes, mock our best efforts like that other big guy who supposedly smites bad guys with lightening and locusts?
Those heavy stone tablets teach us that we should not place strange gods before us. In other words, it’s wrong to worship a horse. Keep in mind that the Old Testament was written long before Wiggle it Jiggleit set foot on a racetrack, so you might want to reconsider that one rule and choose to love thy neighbor a little more, and covet his wife a little less. You know — balance it out.
Anyway, the racehorse giveth great riches and the racehorse taketh those riches away. Our cups runneth over — but not very often. The horse maketh us lie down in his green paddock when we cannot catch him and we are far too weary to keep trying. He leadeth us to gentle brown waters where he rolls and muddies himself, in spite of all human efforts to keep him clean and shiny and worthy of their worship. Still, come foul, come fair, the horse-god is praised in spite of the fact that he is indeed just a horse.
But do these horse gods return our dutiful favors and our labor? Are they good and merciful gods or are they vengeful? The answer depends on who’s telling the story. In this instance you are forced to hear me, a discarded leper who has seen great and miraculous things. Like the martyred and sainted horsemen who came before me, and with just the clothes on my back and my horses for companionship, I wandered for an eternity with good intent throughout a great wasteland — a place the prophets called New Jersey — and that is where I prepared my gospel of many fantastic stories. Here is one:
Not so very long ago, a very talented trainer named Michael Russo, labored for hours and hours trying to find the best horse at a yearling sale. His plan was noble and his diligence was great. With his strange penchant for maroon and gray perfection, Michael inspected every single colt and filly until he decided that there was only one in their midst who was deserving of his bid. I know this to be true because I, a trusted and worthy friend, stood by his side as other meritorious horsemen, dressed in their little brief authority, dismissed and degraded that which Mike hath chosen. And, because he was in need of laughter and merriment, God watched as Mike purchased, for a mere $10,000, a colt who would go forth to become the world champion pacer Riverboat King.
Yes, Mike planned and planned and planned, and for those efforts he found himself the rare camel who could walk through the eye of a needle. But, there were still eight months ahead — plenty of time for godly laughter.
In the late spring, when there was new light and the creatures of the earth were reawakening and again stirring above the stone dust, Riverboat King had proven that he was perhaps a young Hercules; possessing of much merit, and a steed proving worthy of Mike’s careful plan. But was this a trick? Was Riverboat King — a young god in the making — preparing still to mock Michael Russo as he too wandered through the same vast wasteland as I?
Soon — as word spread throughout the land about this inspiring colt who had shown nothing but great promise — other men came to marvel at Michael Russo’s treasure for they too wanted to call that treasure their own. After much negotiation and the falsely polite bartering of wealthy gentlemen, Michael sold the precious colt that he hath chosen above all others. And though he came upon a healthy profit — an offer no mortal man could refuse — his profit was nowhere near as bountiful as the $1.2 million dollars the chosen one went on to plunder for its new owners and trainer when it was sent into battle. Let’s agree to say that Michael Russo planned while Riverboat King, a lesser god, had at least giggled.
Throughout my travels in the wasteland, and in search of truth, I was told by many wise men that there was much lunacy ahead of me. They told me about crazy people who said and did odd things whilst they fussed around with the horse gods. I was warned that I would be confronted with strange minds, and that I would scratch my head in wonder. The wise men were right.
Each time I am asked, and we sit by my campfire, I will tell you stories of these strange people. I will tell you about an owner who pretended to be blind to avoid filling out a blank check. Then there was the impostor who masqueraded as a veterinarian to impress me in hopes of a better deal. Although I am not a Buddhist, I can tell you that in Buddhism, there is a proverb in which mortals are warned about the importance of truth — something upon which I have rarely stumbled in racing.
Buddhists say: “There are but three things that cannot be long hidden; The sun, the moon and the truth.” With that wisdom in mind, know that all these tales I tell will always be true as I have remembered them.