If some big spender wants to invest in a racehorse, I know of a deal. You can get in for around $10,000 to $15,000. That's pennies compared to some of today's champion thoroughbreds, which fetch hundreds of thousands on their way to the stud farm.
I'm talking about an incredibly fast horse who set a world record with a time nobody thought could be achieved. I'm talking about a versatile harness racing horse that excelled in both trotting and pacing, two distinctly different gaits. I'm talking about a horse that took a nation by storm.
What's the catch? Oh, all right, there might be one minor detail. The horse isn't exactly, um, alive. OK, he's been dead almost a century. But everything I said was true. I was describing the great Jay Eye See, named for the initials of his owner, Jerome I. Case. If you check with the state and national halls of fame, the name Jay Eye See will be there.
The investment opportunity I mentioned is real, too. Sure, the horse's bones are in a Rubbermaid container at local historian John Van Thiel's place for now, but he has big plans for them. If he can find a sponsor, he'd like to give the famous black gelding the respectful burial he always deserved.
That would be part two in the saga for Van Thiel. Part one came in 1997, when he led a small expedition that located and dug up the horse's remains near the Wal-Mart development on Durand Avenue. That saved the horse from a more cruel fate. Even if the bones had survived the not-so-gentle touch of the excavator, they'd have been stuck permanently in anonymity.
Jay Eye See's dried-out bones would have trouble dealing with that. He's used to being a star. He gained fans by beating rival Maude S. to the seemingly unreachable world record time of 2:10 in 1884 and later by setting records as a pacer. He got used to having hundreds of people come and check him out at Hickory Grove farm and made his way onto Currier & Ives prints.
Maybe you've never heard of the horse before. Don't feel dense; at one time horse racing was a much bigger deal in Racine. You didn't have to take a day trip to Illinois to see racehorses in action. You could get your fill right here in town.
Van Thiel's job at Unico Inc. in Franksville includes plenty of graphic design, so he figures he's got the skills to pull off the design of the Jay Eye See monument. He's also got a possible site in mind: Case-Harmon Park, the balloon-shaped one on the south side of Racine.
It might not seem like a natural fit. The way the homes and park space are molded around each other, you'd think that was a residential area since the frontier days. The subdivision there did win an award in the 1920s for forward thinking in its use of park space, but before that the land was part of the Hickory Grove farm, where Jay Eye See once strolled. It's also just a few blocks from the street named after the gelding, Jay Eye See Avenue, and a few other street names related to his owner.
Van Thiel envisions burying the remains with one of those dignified-looking boulders. It would have plaques on both sides: one to describe the horse's exploits, and another to describe the history of the subdivision itself.
So the main item remaining on the checklist is the money. Fund raising isn't Van Thiel's specialty, and other time commitments and setbacks have kept him from pursuing this further. But he's hoping, when the plans are more concrete, that a sponsor will come forward. Maybe it'll be a local company, or a bunch of racing enthusiasts.
Van Thiel guesstimates it'd take $10,000 to $15,000 to put it together. When you adjust for inflation, that's not too far off the $500 J.I. Case paid for the speedy little Jay Eye See. For all of his fame, his value has barely increased over the years.
OK, I'll stop now, but I don't feel like I'm beating a dead horse. Not very many could beat him when he was alive.
Mike Moore is the associate editor of The Journal Times. He can be reached at (262) 631-1724 or by e-mail: at email@example.com