There are “Chromies,” and then there are Juba fans.
I take pictures of him, I bring a big sign to a few of his races (of which I’ve attended five in person), I have his horseshoe in my bedroom, and I write about him in regular intervals. In fact, one of my articles about him as well as many of my pictures of him are among the very first Google results returned for “Juba horse.” He’s been my cell phone and desktop wallpaper for years, the reason I check the NYRA condition book in advance, and why I know so much about his “teammates” at Centennial Farms. Horse racing might not have teams like the NFL or NBA, but you’d never know it from the growing noise on Twitter for #TeamCentennial.
On September 9, 2016, I was just wrapping up a fine breakfast of berries and cream pancakes when I got the message: Juba was done, and off to his next career at stud. I had known for a long time it was coming, and I had braced myself for it to happen after every one of his races. He could turn up lame, colick again, or just not be fit to be a racehorse anymore. I am no stranger to the business and politics of horse racing; even a Twitter sensation can run up the grain bill, and despite the fact Juba appeared to enjoy heading to the post, he was struggling. Jimmy Jerkens had run out of time to find Juba’s niche, which came out to play so brilliantly in a select few starts. It was time to call it quits, and he had Taylor Mountain Farm in West Virginia interested in standing him. It wasn’t the hidden nook of a New York farm that got him like I’d originally hoped, but it wasn’t all bad. After all, when I had a bad mishap heading home from the Breeders’ Cup last fall, it was the very kind people in Morganstown, West Virginia who helped me out and showed me great hospitality.
Not long ago, the thought of a favorite of mine retiring was enough to sour me the whole day. When Union Rags unexpectedly retired, I was aghast, as I was for Blind Luck and a handful of others in abbreviated careers. But this time, I knew Juba had earned it. Last fall, I had seen it for myself what kind of life a retired racehorse like him could expect– a wide open and grassy paddock, a big box stall full of straw, a stud groom, and the good lazy life. And when he’s done being a stallion, Old Friends made the obvious even more obvious that they’d happily welcome him to one of their paddocks. It was the perfect happy ending for us both; I needn’t worry about him anymore.
Reflecting back on the last few years, Juba was the horse that bridged me to other people, places, and decisions. I was at the paddock shooting pictures of Juba on his Westchester Stakes day when I met my friend Greg (@Raven9Lives), who is now one of my best “track friends” that I love dearly. I met one of my favorite Twitter peeps, Lisa (@LisaF713), while cheering for Juba in his Aqueduct win… Lisa and I would hang out together again at Old Friends, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, and at the most recent Travers Stakes. And of course, my daily Twitter life was much improved with so many regular updates via the “very unofficial” Juba account and the subsequently kickstarted @Centennial_Farm account.
A huge high hoof and many thanks to those involved in the great Juba era:
— Centennial Farms and Jimmy Jerkens, who bought and trained the superstar son of Tapit and Adoradancer and gave me next-level thrills
— All the fans and followers of Juba, you guys literally sealed the deal. When Juba finally returned after his three-year-old injury, Twitter exploded and he was the heavy, heavy favorite at Gulfstream Park. From there on out, it was a guaranteed fun ride.
— Dario and Omar, Juba’s grooms, for making him look so good and for all the dirty work endured throughout his career!
— Kent Sweezey and the Jerkens crew– for doing what you guys do best and not kicking us out of the shed row when all I wanted to do was see Juba one time!
— The brains behind @Jubacolt– without you, I can’t imagine how things would’ve turned out on so many levels. Thank you thank you thank you a thousand times over.
— Of course, Juba himself. But he probably already knows that.
As one journey ends, another begins. There is no question I will make the trip to the Mountain State at some point, and at another, cheer on the junior Jubas of the racing world. But will I find another racehorse as personable, good-looking, and as life-changing as Juba? Definitely not.