I can’t mention #TripleCrown without thinking of the Mishna in Ethics of Our Fathers: Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns–the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty–but the crown of good name surmounts them all. (Chapter 4, Mishna 13).
Living in Albany, a mere 30 miles from Saratoga’s racetrack, you don’t have to bet on horses to know about horse racing. It’s deeply ingrained in local culture and tradition. My father Rabbi Israel Rubin wrote articles about horseracing and Judaism including “Should we wear blinders?” He took our school children from Albany up to Saratoga to see the “Maimonides” horse (also by Zayat Stables) and the New York Times covered it (see below). The TripleCrown is such an elusive title and rare accomplishment that you don’t have to know anything about the sport or live anywhere close to a racetrack to get excited about it.
One fascinating story about this year’s Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh is about his jockey Victor Espinoza. See these stories by CBS News, the NY Post and the NY Times about his visit to the Rebbe’s Ohel gravesite to pray before the big race at Belmont. What impressed me most is what he prayed for, first and foremost:
American Pharaoh’s owner Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables, has interesting and colorful stories of his own. He’s an Egyptian Jew, whose father was the physician of Anwar Sadat, he got rich selling beer in Egypt and has a long track of his own with horses and horseracing. Interestingly he was sometimes was referred to as Muslim in the press, yet is Jewish and Sabbath-observant to the extent of renting RV’s so they wouldn’t have to drive to the Belmont Track on Shabbos. (Obviously, there are many levels of Sabbath observance and what people will or will not do).
Going back to 2007 he owned a horse that he named Maimonides. Our school in Albany is named Maimonides, so when this horse was stabled and running at Saratoga, we went up there for a visit. A New York Times reporter happened to be nearby, and that photo and story made it to the front page of the New York Times!
Not only the NY Times, but the Jewish websites covered our school’s 2007 visit as well. One irate Rabbi from Brooklyn wrote angrily to my father, how dare you take kids to see a race horse, and that the horse is named Maimonides yet! He felt strongly that it was sacrilegious. My father replied with a verse from the Prophets, that in the Messianic era, the words “Holy to G-d!” will be written across the bit on a horse’s mouth!