By Richard MacKenzie
I was out of the loop.
For the latter part of the first decade of this century (2005-2010), I was out west; most of that time in the B.C. Interior and the rest in central Alberta.
In 2007 and 2008, when harness racing sensation Somebeachsomewhere (Beach for short) was setting the industry on fire with exciting and dramatic wins, in record-setting times, efforts that transfixed spectators, especially those in mine and his hometown of Truro, I was in what seemed like a world away – Salmon Arm, B.C. The quaint Central Interior B.C. community is a haven for cross-country ski enthusiasts, Standardbred horse racing, not so much.
But I was always kept abreast of Beach’s impressive exploits.
The reason; more than just being the biggest star from my home community, this amazing horse was co-owned and trained by my brother-in-law Brent MacGrath, with my sister Rhonda fully involved in a caretaker’s role.
It was very sad to receive news from Brent and Rhonda earlier this month that Beach had to be euthanized; cancer, which was detected in November of last year, claimed his life, after all medical efforts were exhausted. Beach, stabled at Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania, where he performed stud services, had just turned 13 Jan. 1. He was euthanized Jan. 14.
My first-encounter with Beach came in the midst of his incredible two-year racing career. I came home for Christmas of 2007 and went over with Brent and Rhonda and Lily, their beloved golden retriever who is also no longer with us, as Brent let Beach out for a stretch and run in one of the large arenas on the exhibition grounds in Bible Hill; adjacent to where the horse received his start – Truro Raceway.
While Lily raced back-and-forth below the seating area, Beach did the same in the show arena, clearly enjoying the activity and company. As Brent would explain to me during a few conversations we’ve had on sports and athletes, while Beach was physically gifted as a race horse, what really set him apart was his personality, his attitude; a competitive spirit and thirst that someone outside the industry might not detect.
But even for us non-horse people, you really had to have had your head in the sand to miss Beach’s obvious confidence; he exuded it like all great athletes do. I went back to Salmon Arm after the holidays and tried to share, with readers of the newspaper I was working with at the time, the excitement and anticipation for Beach’s three-year-old season.
I’m not sure how successful I was but I certainly wasn’t alone as the racing world was now eagerly anticipating what Beach would do in his second season; and media coverage of Beach, Brent, his fellow owners and driver Paul MacDonnell, grew and grew. Seeing Beach race as a three-year- old, in 2008, would require trips to the U.S., to places such as the Meadowlands in New Jersey or The Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky. In Canada, it meant travelling to southern Ontario, to Woodbine or Mohawk Raceway, which is where I was fortunate enough to see him win the $1.5 million North America Cup.
Arriving a few days before the Saturday evening race, I remember the build-up in the media; it all focused on Beach, how this could be his biggest win to date and really set in motion a season for the ages. There was also a little concern thrown in there, as Beach was dealing with a minor hoof injury. I and a couple of other family members visited the stable where Beach was staying in Burlington.
Those more quiet occasions take on a greater significance in time, as you realize, in retrospect, just how special it was to be there sharing, with family, that moment in time as this truly unique horse was creating a buzz and hype he would, in the coming few months, live up to and surpass.
Despite not partaking in his usually training schedule, because of that minor injury, Beach went off as a 2-5 favorite and won in (Michael) Jordanesque fashion; by two-and-three-quarter lengths, in a time of 1:49.0.
I’ll never forget the crowd and Beach coming back around for his victory lap. It was a rock star receiving a thunderous encore and this rock star seemed well aware of the moment.
The Confederation Cup Pace, Messenger Stakes and Breeders Crown were other big races Beach won that year and the season also included him tying the all-age world race record of 1:46.4, at The Red Mile in the Bluegrass — the aforementioned Lexington location.
Beach entered the Canadian Horse Hall of Fame and the U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame, soon after his two-year racing career. He earned more than $3.2 million on the track, winning 20 of 21 starts, and has sired other racers who have won more than $82 million.
Brent often referred the Beach as the ‘horse of a lifetime’ and I thought he did a great job in recent interviews when asked, reasonably I would say, about the financial loss, since Beach could have kept up his lucrative stud services for another 10 years or so. Brent, graciously, acknowledged that but quickly emphasized this, first and foremost, is a personal loss for people who love animals, horses and, in particular, this charismatic charmer.
“Everyone feels the loss,” Rhonda said.
“It’s funny about Beach, I think everyone felt a connection.”
His story was so ‘feel good’ there was no competitiveness or envy, everyone felt a sense of pride and joy with his accomplishments. So, I think, everyone also feels the loss.”
Richard MacKenzie is a Truro native and reporter for The Casket in Antigonish.