Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Riders Up!

"And God took a handful of southerly wind, blew his breath over it and created the horse." -- Bedouin legend

This Saturday is the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racetrack (it's also our anniversary, but I'll write more on that later) and the ZamFam5 is rooting for Big Brown (named for the big brown UPS trucks!). I was born the year Secretariat won the Triple Crown, and there have only been two other TC winners since then (Affirmed in 1978 was the last), so we are hoping that this gorgeous guy will go all the way! I have been meaning to post on the Kentucky Derby since May 3, but have suffered from end-of-semester time crunch and severe writer's block, so here it finally is:

Anyone who knows me, knows what I will be doing the first Saturday in May. I've watched almost every Triple Crown race and especially every Kentucky Derby since 1984. I just love it. Which is kind of goofy – watching three hours of television coverage for a two minute race – but what a thrill when the race is on and fingers are crossed for a safe ride. . . .Which is why I haven't written on the derby until today, because as most will know, it had a terrible ending with the filly Eight Belles going down and being euthanized on the track. Now I still don't know what to write, but I couldn't let the moment pass and not comment at all.

I had planned to post on Saturday before the start of the race and list the ZamFam5 picks – we were of course rooting for Z Fortune (we love Zs!), and we liked the favorite Big Brown and were excited about a girl running against 19 boys especially on the the 20th anniversary of the last filly derby winner Winning Colors. But I just couldn't come up with anything witty or even that interesting to write. And then the tragedy. I'm not ashamed to say, several of us here were watching with tears streaming down our faces.

What is it about horses, dogs or ships going down that I find so unbearably sad? Well, that Saturday was absolutely horrific, and it's taken me this long to formulate some sort of coherent thoughts about it. Some might think, why care that much about some horse, and to be honest, I myself could not answer that question right away either. But here's my best try . . .

I think the tragedies of horses like Ruffian, Barbaro and Eight Belles are bringing to light the sad side of this sport. As with sports in general, where athletes are pushing for more speed and power even to the point of drugging, horse racing is suffering from a lack of vision. In the past (and even today in Europe), horse racing was a tactical event, where endurance and strength were prized over sprinting speeds. Now we see full-tilt suicide runs at breakneck speeds run by youngsters whose bodies aren't even fully developed. NPR's Frank Deford puts it best when he says, “Thoroughbreds are such incredibly fragile creatures, half-ton beasts born with a burning desire to run but on candlestick legs.”

Today's barns are pumping out horses that are expected to only run a few races and then be put out to stud; whereas in the past, horses had long careers, developed loyal followings and made the bulk of their money through purses, not stud fees. Tragedies like Eight Belles are also a symptom of the terrible inbreeding that has permeated American Thoroughbreds. All twenty derby horses had Native Dancer as an ancestor, a horse that only died fifty years ago – this is dangerous and foolhardy by any genetic standard. So there's my two cents. We are letting our greed and obsession with speed permeate and contaminate the “Sport of Kings.” These majestic animals deserve so much better, and so does the cadre of fans who for those two minutes hold their breath, cross their fingers, cheer their champion and revel in the visceral delight of seeing these creatures in such awesome motion.

So here's fingers crossed for a safe race this Saturday. Go Big Brown!

(And thanks for your indulgence. I know not everyone is that into horse racing. OK, I don't actually know anyone personally who is as into it as I am, but when you get your own blog you can write boring things about whatever you want!)


TropicGirl said...

I'm always gonna read your blog. Even when it's about horse racing and I don't care. You write beautifully so you could write about your grocery list and I'd read it!
(loved the little disclaimer at the end)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I cry about dogs, horses, cats, just animals in general. I even cringe when I mow over a snake and I loathe snakes.
Love you,