Saturday, May 03, 2008

No sir, I don't like it!

Yes today was the Super Bowl of horse racing, the Kentucky Derby, marking the first of only three times all year mainstream America will give a flip about horse racing (two if there's no chance of a triple crown). One look at the top tool bar of the Yahoo! Sports home page will give you a good idea at just how bottom tier the sport actually is in the American consciousness. You've got the all the major ones first: NFL, NBA, MLB, College Sports, NASCAR, NHL. Then it slides on over to the second tier sports that most people occasionally keep tabs on during major events: MMA, Boxing, Golf, Soccer, Tennis, and the upcoming Olympics. After that you have "Action sports" which covers all those "xtreme" Mountain Dew sports that I assume everyone from Colorado does. And finally in the expressive category of "More" alongside such national past times as Canadian Football, Cricket, and the WNBA resides "the sport of kings."

For the early to mid 20th century the the holy trinity of sports in the United States were: Baseball, Boxing, and Horse Racing. I can only suspect that this was because more fun sports had not been perfected yet (like the three point line in basketball, or forward passes in football). Baseball has managed to stay relevant by changing with the times (integration, the designated hitter rule, wild card playoffs, rally monkeys, sausage races) but for the most part boxing and horse racing have stayed just about the same and thus have stagnated into the sports footnotes they currently are. This seems especially the case with horse racing. Look at the Derby itself, it's basically one big southern, old timey, circle jerk of goofy hats, paper fans, and mint juleps. While slavery has yet to come back, if that HBO "Jockey" documentary I caught once is any indication it's not too far off. It's one of those sports that you can only imagine fedora wearing, old school, dinosaurs like Bert Sugar would intensely follow. The sport really needs to get off its "sport of kings" high horse (pun totally not intended, but now that I notice it, totally intended) and realize what it is in the modern day hierarchy of sports: a third tier sport whose main role is to provide a steady stream of content that people can wager on. If horse racing is the sport of kings, then so is late night cable poker.

So apparently the winner of the race itself was "Big Brown", who was supposedly the favorite but who really gives a crap. It's funny; as asinine and utterly pointless sports talk radio is most of the time , it somehow manages to sound even more asinine and pointless when they're talking about horse racing. At least with team and individual sports there's some rational method of arguing the variables and making reasonable predictions or analysis. Here they're talking about horses, like they had any personal stake in any of this. This one's better in the mud, this one has yet to "prove himself", can this one handle "a big race." They're horses! Big, dumb, beasts of burden, who's single goal during the whole race is to go faster in the hopes that the guy riding them will stop hitting them. Granted, jockeying obviously involves skill and talent, but all that really goes out the window if the horse just decided: "I don't want to run that fast today."

The really messed up thing in all this was the second place horse, Eight Belles, the first filly (female horse) to qualify in 9 years, fracturing both front ankles and getting euthanized after the race. A pretty harsh penalty for coming in second don't you think? I can't imagine any other sport where something like this could happen. It'd be like if they put Isiah Thomas and his sprained ankle to sleep after the Pistons lost to the Lakers in game 7 the 1988 NBA Finals or team doctors officially "retired" washed up, rubber armed, Johnny Unitas after the Colts lost Super Bowl III. The most absurd part of it all was the commentary people made on behalf of the horse like "this horse showed you [her] heart" or "she ran the race of her life" like the horse had some other thoughts and feelings outside of the crippling pain of two fractured ankles.

Of course the real lesson to be learned from this tragedy is that females are once again in way over their heads and should not be allowed to participate in certain male dominated catagories; like the first year they gave women the vote and they helped elect Warren G. Harding into office.


  1. I had to read a Secretariat bio for a class earlier this year. I can't remember if it was actually subtitled "Heart of a Champion" or they just said that a million times in the book, but I think it would have been a much more relatable read if it was "Secretariat: Heart of a Big, Dumb Animal That Really Wished People Would Stop Hitting Him".

    Oh, and the book also led me to discover the weirdest thing about these horse racing fetishist types--how OK they are with horse porn. The book had like an entire chapter on exactly how (and I mean EXACTLY how) Secretariat was sired. I don't even think a Kevin Smith character could rub one out to that.

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