The yearlings are leaving in three weeks, which is hard to believe. They’ve been pointed at the yearling sale at summer’s end since before their birth, since before we planned their existence, since before we laid eyes on their dams. They were our second (and last) crop. They were the first we planned, plotted, and bred ourselves. They are special.
Yukon, christened Upper West Side, is the daughter of Ontherightwicket, the stakes-winning Marylander; the daughter of Western Pride, the millionaire world traveler: a tall, leggy miler with attitude to spare. She dislikes me deeply. I am the bearer of needles and aerosol sprays. Grain and hay notwithstanding, I am completely evil in her eyes. She is Daddy’s girl. Daddy hugs and reassures her while I do the dirty work.
Royal, officially Sunset Park, is the son of Gallapiatsprincess, the happily career broodmare with a disdain for humans; the son of Florida establishment sire Straight Man: a small, round, muscular chestnut devil, with a white blaze and three white socks. He loves me. He chews on me, leans on me, occasionally bites me. He is Mummy’s Bad Boy.
If I’ve learned anything from my four foals, it is that their personalities change so dramatically that you can never predict who will love you, and who you will love.
Yukon was born in the barn, at noon, on a sunny February day. I pulled her forelegs, I wiped her nose clean, I helped Wicket dry her off. She wasn’t exactly an angel, as a foal, but you could handle her. You could corner her and catch her. You could pick up her feet, lead her, brush her, all of the good baby stuff. She was no Royal…
Royal was born in the paddock, at five o’clock in the evening, with no witnesses and no warning. Mare is grazing and happy. Good. Half hour goes by. There is an extra horse in the paddock? Mare is grazing and happy and – has a foal at foot. Okay. He was a wild man, as befit his birth and his aloof mother. Royal squealed with outrage when you touched him. He ran away. He jumped fences. He broke into the neighbor’s yard, in cahoots with the teasing pony. Memorably, he wouldn’t allow you any second chances. You accidentally bumped his leg with the hoofpick? Guess what – you weren’t picking up his feet – or touching his legs – or for that matter touching him – ever EVER EVER AGAIN.
Or so he told me.
Now they are the opposite.
Fly spray: Yukon says, “OHMIGOD FLY SPRAY IT BURNS IT’S ACID OMIGOD!!!” Royal doesn’t even look up from his hay. He says nothing.
Bath: Yukon says, “OHMIGOD WATER WATER IT BURNS IT’S ACID OMIGOD!!!” Royal says, “This is wet. You are getting me wet. I would bite you, but it’s very interesting that I’m getting wet, so I’m going with it.”
Round pen: Yukon says, “I hate you you make me trot I hate you you make me trot.” Royal says, “PARTY! RUN! GALLOP!!”
Natalie: Yukon says, “You are mean. Pout.” Royal says, “Yum. I like to eat your ponytail. Do whatever you want.”
If you had told me, a year ago, that I would adore Royal and leave Yukon to Cory, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wanted to beat Royal with a stick a year ago. He was a Putz with a capital P. But through no effort on my part, he has matured into an interesting young man, with a surfer-dude outlook on life. Matches the bleached blonde mane. Don’t get me wrong, Yukon is a good girl. She’s an amazing athlete and her class emanates in her every move. We just stop and watch her sometimes, or admire the tight lines of her Northern Dancer profile, and say, “Wow. Wow wow wow.” But Royal is my bad boy.