2013-12-11 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

I was so saddened to read the news. Paul Moran, Newsday’s horse racing columnist from 1985 to 2007, died last month at age 66. A recipient of numerous press awards, Mr. Moran, known for his sculpted sentences and incredible imagery, could depict a Thoroughbred’s feats like no other. His readers heard the hooves pound and smelled the mud kicked up at the finish line. These racing reports mesmerized, but, to me, his incredible act of kindness to my third-grade students is as memorable.

Mr. Moran lost a long battle with lung cancer on Nov. 9 in Saratoga Springs. He was a brilliant writer and an authority on racing who adored the horses that he so adeptly deified. While at Newsday he won two Eclipse Awards for outstanding coverage of Thoroughbred racing, one in 1990 for his heart-wrenching account of the fatal accident of filly champion Go for Wand during the Breeders’ Cup at Belmont.

Exterminator (“Old Bones”)-1918 Kentucky Derby winner Exterminator (“Old Bones”)-1918 Kentucky Derby winner So in the spring of 1994 (during the Pre-Google Era) when a group of my third-graders reading the book Old Bones the Wonder Horse by Mildred Mastin Pace had questions about Exterminator, the surprise “dark horse” winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby, we wrote to the ultimate expert- Mr. Moran. We were blown away by his response and invitation.

Everyone loves the “under dog,” especially when he’s a horse, of course. Exterminator’s story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. In 1918, Exterminator was purchased as a clumsy-looking work horse to help Sun Briar, the prized prospect, prepare for the Derby. Exterminator’s smarts at figuring out what he was supposed to do and his ability to run in the rain impressed his trainer. Sun Briar became ill the night before the Run for the Roses, so Exterminator took his place on a very muddy track at odds of 30-1. He stayed at the back of the pack until the turn for home, and then flew, passing one horse after another and winning the Derby by a length. His triumph occurred while we were embroiled in World War I.

As a gelding, Exterminator (aka “Old Bones”) continued with a long racing career and an impressive record of 50 wins out of 99 races. In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway compared his own talents as a sure bet to Exterminator when bargaining for better percentages from his publisher. The Derby champ raced until he was nine years old, and then enjoyed many years of retirement. His record of 33 stakes wins still stands as best for a North American Thoroughbred. His owner’s widow would throw “Old Bones” birthday parties. Hundreds of children, adult fans too, would arrive with gifts of carrots, oats and other treats. Exterminator died at age 30 and is buried alongside many of his companion ponies, all named “Peanuts.” Exterminator shares a tombstone with his stable mate Sun Briar in Binghamton, NY.

Mr. Moran answered our Exterminator questions and then followed up with a wonderful Newsday 6/2/94 article-“Kids to Save Age-Old Game” about the future of horse racing. He quoted my students. My district, which will remain nameless, had a series of colorful superintendents. The reigning czar, who would quote himself and Einstein in the same sentence, quipped: “Leave it to Anderson to get her students into a horse racing column.” He also thought it was funny to have me paged if a stray dog surfaced on any district playground. He wanted me to find him a Golden Retriever. I never did.

Then Mr. Moran called and invited my class to Belmont. It was right before the Belmont Stakes and we would be treated to a private tour of the stables while the horses exercised in the early morning before betting windows opened. Kentucky Derby winners were staying there. The superintendent said: “No, it’s inappropriate to take a field trip to a horse track.” He missed the point that we were asked by an incredible writer to visit top equine athletes at an historic LI landmark. The Derby itself is the oldest continuous sporting event in our nation. All Americana. All memorable for these eight- and nine-year-olds.

Their parents were up in arms. They complained to the district office at the lost opportunity. They offered to pay for a charter bus or to carpool the kids but the superintendent wouldn’t budge. Mr. Moran didn’t give up. He contacted the Thoroughbred Racing Communications (TRC). They arranged to bring a very special horse into school. Abraham, an adorable miniature horse with a luxurious mane, came to meet the entire third grade. He posed inside our library after the TRC program where 200 kids got a chance to pet and brush him. TRC sent us tons of reading and fun activities too, and then filmed a segment at school for a TV sports channel about children as the future of horse racing.

Newsday’s 11/10/13 obituary said: “Moran, an animal lover, was fond of cats. He adopted brothers Felix and Oscar, and grieved when Felix died in July. He recently gave Oscar to a friend because he could no longer care for him. In recent years he owned Thoroughbreds trained by H. James Bond.” The piece ended: “Funeral arrangements are pending. Moran wished to be cremated and have his ashes scattered over Go for Wand’s grave in the infield at Saratoga.” His final statement poignantly punctuated.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Winnie” 3-534 is a special, affectionate young calico. She has a deformed skull, giving her a unique face. X-rays do not reveal anything obviously wrong. “Jake” 13-613 is a current Pit favorite of the staff and volunteers. He is calm and tolerant of other dogs on walks.

Dogs: “Nikki” 13-579- another Pit favorite and parttime office dog; “Canby” 13-407- Shih tzu; “Nakita” 13- 597- special needs Akita.

Cats: “Mama Rex”-calico Devon Rex mix 3-279; “Tucker”-abandoned with “Winnie.”

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