MR. BOX’S careful training plan for the Belmont Stakes was going right on schedule: vigorous playtimes punctuated by regular biscuit breaks, a custom-designed regimen of mid-afternoon snoozes, relaxing strolls with the brothers, and barroooo-ing at the postman. But all of that came to a halt Friday morning, when Mr. Box, having gone downstairs for that all-important first meal of the day, declined to come back up the stairs again to his bed, even when offered payment in a fat biscuit to do so. That’s not like our Mr. Box! So we packed him off to Dr. Snyder, whose genius and kindness are evident here (he’s the one NOT sitting in the tub):
The verdict: a muscle strain in Mr. Box’s back. O, cruel fate! To strike on Belmont Eve! Mr. Box has taken this injury in stride, but shorter, slower strides than usual.
We’re hoping that our Icebox’s equine counterpart, Belmont morning-line favorite (and Kentucky Derby runner-up) Ice Box will hit the wire first in the final leg of the Triple Crown series today. We’ll be cheering him on from our living room this afternoon when the race goes off at New York’s Belmont Park.
What does our Mr. Box think of his namesake’s chances?
“I like him,” the little white beagle opined. “You gotta love a horse with that name. But I worry about whether there’s enough speed on the front end to give him an honest pace to run at. On the other hand, you know, he checked three times during the Derby, had the agility to get out of that trouble, and still had enough gas left to make that signature long run in the homestretch. So we know he’s got some fancy footwork available to him, he’s no ordinary plodder, from where I stand. Can he change his tactics to sit closer to a slower pace up front and then roll home like a freight train? I hope so, but I’d like to see a rabbit in front of him somewhere. Oh, rabbits! Speaking of rabbits …”
Wow–Mr. Box sure has been studying his Daily Racing Form during his recovery! What does he think of Ice Box’s ability, pedigree-wise, to get the Belmont’s 1 1/2-mile distance?
“Shoot, he’s bred to go long!” exclaimed Mr. Box. “Are you kidding me? He’s got stamina, all right.”
Our Mr. Box knows a thing or two about stamina, so we have no doubt he could get the Belmont distance. He’s already done more than that (but not in a little over two minutes; it took him more like two weeks). Here’s the story.
Mr. Box’s Epic Journey
It was a dark and snowy night … that’s how the tale begins.
About two days after Christmas in 2004, the Clear Creek Beagles hunted farmland on Harrods Creek near Goshen, Ky. When the hunt was over and huntsman Buck Wiseman put the hounds in their trailer, Mr. Box was not among them. Buck stayed at the meet and blew and blew his horn, but Mr. Box, then known as Icebox ’04, still did not come in. Icebox was in his first season with the pack that winter, and he already had proven to be a very marginal sort of hunting beagle, even though he was by the Clear Creek pack’s legendary Moby. Icebox, it seemed, preferred going off on his own and never really got the whole gist of hunting. But this was the first time he hadn’t come in at all. Finally, Buck had to return to the kennel with the rest of the hounds. He came back to the meet by himself as night was falling and blew his horn for a long time again. Still no sign of Mr. Box.
“Then a terrific snowstorm came in that night,” Buck said. “Seven or eight inches of snow. It was very, very cold–it was below freezing for days.”
The next day, while Buck was “off being a lawyer,” as Clear Creek whipper-in Jean MacLean puts it, he deputized Jean, who was recovering from surgery but was the only other person who knew Icebox personally, to go back on the hunt for Mr. Box on the farm where the hunt had been.
“It was very cold,” recalled Jean. “I remember a farm guy had seen him, and so I went out and traveled around out there. But I never saw him.”
“I checked back for him a few more times, but there was no sign of him,” Buck continued. “The farm crew didn’t see him. No one had seen him. And then about two weeks later, I drove into the kennel, and he was sitting on the front step.
“It’s probably a good four or five miles from where he got left back to the kennel. It’s not a huge trek back, but he had to cross Harrods Creek, which is a pretty good-sized creek. Maybe he crossed the bridge, I don’t know.”
Even stranger, Icebox looked just fine.
“The peculiar thing about hounds when they get left out is they usually look just great when they come home,” Buck said. “I don’t know what they eat or where they hang out, but they look fine when they come home. I’ve had them picked up six weeks later, and they’ve looked fine.”
Mr. Box moved in with us four months later. He never was much of a rabbit-hunting hound, but he’s an ace at hunting biscuits.
“I like biscuits,” Mr. Box concurs.
And if Ice Box has any of our Mr. Box’s stamina, he’ll have no trouble handling the Belmont distance. Here’s hoping that he, like Mr. Box, comes home safely, too! Happy Belmont Day, everyone!
Next time: More from the recent Virginia Hound Show trip!