Do you know the story of Ferdinand the Bull? It was one of my favourite books when I was a kid, but it’s probably not politically correct enough for today’s children. It’s about a bull in Spain who’s being raised for bullfighting, but he doesn’t want to fight. He just wants to smell the roses. While the other young bulls are running around in the pasture chasing each other, and mock fighting, Ferdinand is sitting in the meadow smelling the roses. Later, when he goes into the bull ring, he ignores the matador and the crowd, and just keeps on smelling those flowers.
Monarch is the “Ferdinand the Bull” of Thoroughbred horse racing.
Monarch was born at Cherry Valley Farm in Paris, KY, which is owned by Seth Hancock, from the illustrious Hancock family. Despite being the son of a Kentucky Derby winner — Monarchos, who not only won the Derby, but ran it in the second-fastest time ever, after Secretariat — Monarch’s Reign did not have much of a racing career. As a foal, he was nominated for the Breeder’s Cup, which is pretty common for horses with good pedigrees, and he sold for $67,000 at the Keenland Yearling Sale, but he never made it as a race horse.
Race One . . .In his first race, the story goes, as he left the gate the jockey reached around to whip him on his left flank, and Monarch made a quick right turn. Exit jockey. Monarch received a “DNF” for that race — “Did Not Finish.” I guess the jockey got the same rating, and a few bruises besides.
Race Two . . . well, this one is pretty funny to watch, and it’s available at www.calracing.com. This time, Monarch came out of the gate, and for all the world he looked like a pinball. He went left, and there were horses there, so he bounced back to the right, and there were horses there. And this is where the genius of Monarch really started to show: He was so smart that he knew all the horses were going to end up at the finish line eventually, so he just said, “You guys go on ahead. I’ll catch up with ya later.”
So he just kind of dropped back and loped along to the finish. Oh, but I forgot to tell you, this race was at night, and Monarch had never trained for night racing. So he didn’t know there was a light that went across the track to mark the finish line. Valiant Monarch, last in the pack, came galloping up to the finish line, saw the light, and did what they call in racing circles a “stop and prop.” He basically came to a full stop at the finish line, then jumped to one side. The jockey, of course, followed the basic law of physics: A body in motion stays in motion. He flew through the air, which I think technically meant that even the jockey finished before Monarch did.
Two jockeys up, two jockeys down. Monarch’s racing career was finished. But as you will learn here, his real life was just beginning.