Letter to the Editor: Jeff Lifson

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Jeff Lifson of West Point Thoroughbreds:
I was the kid in 10th grade who never thought Jay Gatsby was pathetic. Quite the contrary. 
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us…it eluded us then, but that’s no matter. Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…and one fine morning…” 

Yesterday afternoon at around 6:45 at Belmont Park, I finally stared face to face with the brilliant green light. It wasn’t distant any more. And it made me believe again. 

All American Pharoah did was take me back to Mrs. Michaud’s 10th grade English class a long time ago in a small Iowa college town and the story of Jay Gatsby’s sad, unrequited journey to the edge of his dock. He fell short of his dream…and the dream might have been an improbable one, destined for disappointment and failure. 

Yet I always thought Gatsby angled more down the noble path then the pathetic one. I guess I too believed in the green light, even if it faded into the mist of the Long Island Sound for him. 

For me, yesterday afternoon, also on Long Island, here came that elusive green light again. 

From Silver Charm in ’97 on… I saw ‘em all. Every. Single. One. The horses I wanted to beat (Big Brown with Macho Again, California Chrome with The Curve) and the horses whose failure cut away tiny shards of my soul (Real Quiet and Smarty Jones), I bore witness to the light abruptly fading at the wire for nearly two decades. 

So I got to thinking after the moment came around 6:45 yesterday afternoon–the moment that followed nearly two decades of personal futility, and whispers that grew to shouts that it might never happen again without drastic change. I got to thinking in the darkness of Belmont Park long after the races, long after the personal disappointments of the day (China Prince too fast early, Twilight running on a boggy turf course, Cajun Spirit swallowed up at the top of the stretch). 
What I thought was this: I still believe in the green light–in all the magnificent horses we’ve found, we’ve bought and we’ve watched with unbridled joy with our partners and their families. And I know that along the pathway down to the edge of that dock towards the green light, we’ve slipped and tumbled to the deck plenty. 

American Pharoah came after nearly two decades of me bearing witness to failure. And gave me a mantra worth repeating when one’s high hopes run up the track or drop into the claiming ranks. 

The mantra is this: Be Bigger, and Chase Harder. 

That’s what it takes to be a long-time successful owner of racehorses. Be bigger than the disappointment of the moment, and chase harder towards the goals that others say are improbable. Because you believe and know them to be possible. 
Like American Pharoah, I fly back to Louisville today. Because of him, I’ll be chasing the green light again, first thing tomorrow morning.

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