The sad side of horse racing

Eddie Olczyk’s voice cracked a bit when he talked about a special horse dear to his heart.

The horse wasn’t just meaningful because he named the 2-year-old filly after his wife, calling her Diana O. Olczyk, the hockey star turned horse-race announcer, couldn’t help but become emotional when he told a story that happened 25 years ago.

Olczyk wanted people to get a raw perspective of horse racing during the Thoroughbred Owner Conference Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park, leading up to the Breeders Cup.

Not every horse is a success story. Not everyone gets to take a picture in the winner’s circle.

Olczyk did touch on his winning moments with horses and how great it can be to be part of a team that. But he wanted to tell the story of Diana O to give a different side of horse racing.

“I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since it happened,” Olczyk said as he talked about the time Diana O ran in the Pocahontas Stakes.

Because Olczyk was in Winnipeg for hockey, he watched the race on TV delay at a restaurant. But before he watched the delay feed, his wife called to tell him, “you need to know,” what happened in the race.

At this point, everyone in the audience, including me, wasn’t sure what to make of this story.

“When she said, ‘you need to know,’ my heart stopped,” Olczyk said. “I watched the race. It was a brutal ride. We had no luck on our side.”

Olczyk said his wife told him that the horse named after her suffered an injury.

Olczyk still watched and at one point, it actually looked as if Diana O would win because she led.

“Unfortunately she never crossed the line,” Olczyk said about his horse who died. “That really took a part out of my love for the game for a long time. It was the reality that these animals are so precious. We try to do everything the right way.”

Olczyk salvaged a bittersweet memory from that day. He played a game later that day and scored a goal. On his mantle at home, he has the puck with the white tape across it, and a dark faded marking scribbled onto it: “Diana O.”

Olczyk said it took a long time for him to get back into horse racing after that. But now he’s an owner of four horses. He said he enjoyed his time at the Thoroughbred Owner Conference. It was also a highlight for me during a week that featured my first experience at the Breeder’s Cup.

Olczyk was the keynote speaker for the week-long conference. He began in a humble tone and with a joke.

“Gary Player, Jim Rome and some guy who needs to buy a vowel in his last name,” Olczyk said referring to the other two big names who have been keynote speakers at the Thoroughbred Owner Conference. “I can’t believe I’m trying to follow in the footsteps of a friend of mine in Jim Rome.”

Rome also gave a similar story during his keynote speech about his horse, Shared Belief, who died last year.

It’s safe to say that the horse-racing community is a tight one. It’s not all about winning. It’s not all about money. Purity, yet adversity, remains in this sport.