Just before the starting gate opens at Churchill Downs, the paddock judge (nowadays known as a “distinguished guest”), calls out the familiar command, “Riders up!” Hopeful jockeys mount their readied athletes and move into their post positions as though it were just another day on the job. Like ducks on a pond their sense of urgency is invisible, making it impossible in this moment to know who is more fearless — man or animal.
Men in eccentric seersucker suits and unconventional colors abandon reason already left behind. Ladies in full morning dress clutch their extravagant hats and dawn contrived looks of encouragement born only to disappear in the immediate wake of their unsurprising disappointment. The delightful rattle of ice cubes bringing life to mint juleps quiets and the otherwise impervious chatter of an anxious crowd subsides. The starting bell sounds in unison with the clank of sturdy metal hinges, setting free pure energy from captivity. Quick as lightning, the instinct of pedigreed legs morphs into a thunderous stampede that rivals the instant roar of collective cheer. It is the birth of an exhilarating event the laws of physics dictate will last approximately as long as it takes to eat a bowl of cereal. While sugary bites travel from box to belly, destiny runs for its life.
Now it is that all bets are on and all bets are off, for some spectators are counting on the sure thing, but some long for something else – for the rise of true power incarnate, for “a dark horse which had never been thought of…[to rush] past the grandstand in a sweeping triumph.” (The Young Duke, 1831) For this contestant embodies true passion and utter determination. He is the most enviable, the most celebrated, because he is the most unexpected.
Surely, “Dark Horse” is a label worth striving for. Dark Horse is about being different, bold, undeniable, viscerally confident. It’s a knowing. It’s about rising to meet challenges, surprising the naysayers, awing spectators, excelling, risk taking, going for it, “riding all out,” as a jockey might say. If I had to choose just one way to describe the Dark Horse, it is this: to have an unequivocal, innate faith in yourself, in your endeavor, whatever it may be, and the courage to act upon it that arises from the depths of nowhere.
And while Dark Horse does not discriminate among professions or passions, it must have room to breathe on any playing field. Much like horses yearn for freedom to run uninhibited, writers crave freedom to write unabashedly. To hide behind a pen name then is to be timid, but no Dark Horse can be shrinking. Recently, I accepted my daughter’s challenge to relinquish the Dark Horse Studio shield and write unapologetically. Words by Liz is my change in lead to reach farther forward in stride, to gain a clear passage toward the finish line. Same race. Same jockey. Same journey. Just bareback and naked.
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