Recently in Horse Sense Category
On Kentucky Derby Day, I arrived at Lenny and Patti's house, ready to rock.
I plopped down onto their comfy sofa, sipped from my Coke, and jumped into the lively pre-Derby conversation. OTB tickets distributed, we three launched ourselves into the fray. Ah, the camaraderie of Derby Day, whether you're on Millionaires' Row or Lenny's couch. We could feel the vibe in Louisville, all the way up here.
The joy of anticipation quickly dissipated as the advertisements took stage on NBC Sports Network's pre-Derby show.
The first ad I saw was for Stella Artois. Nice ad. Stella's a beer, and their ads are stylish. Respectful of women. I love their marketing genius, to suggest strongly that imbibers consume their beer from a chalice--as opposed to a glass. Brilliant. Their ads always feature a woman and a man, drinking Stella Artois from chalices in a graceful environment.
I smiled during this ad, thinking about the brilliance of the person who conceived of this marketing strategy--and of the intelligence of the honchos who gave it the nod.
My pre-Derby reverie immediately went downhill after Stella.
The next ad was crammed into my eyeballs--in 53," high-def, full-color, violent, full-assault mode--and utterly freaked me out. From my retinae, horribly enough, it burned forever into my memory.
You see, the next ad was for a razor. But not just any razor: it seems that some men are overly concerned about body hair. And this electronic, hand-held lawn mower has one job in its miserable existence: to rid men of unwanted body hair. Of course, the only bits shown by the ad were of men scraping hair off their chests and backs--but OH, GOOD GOD.
I don't want to see that--no one does. (A show of hands, please, for those who think that watching a man groom himself is entertainment.)
No one wants to see that--except the "hot," barely-clad, young babes in the ad. You recognize those young women who thank God every day, that they're not smart. (Because when a woman is smart it causes trouble, for everyone.) Apparently these single-digit-IQ'd chicklets want their men to be smooth as glass, and fake.
Isn't this device the sort of thing that should be marketed by Word-of-Mouth, via BzzAgent.com, or some other man-to-man medium? How about magazines directed at men? Surely, they'd love to host ads for a product that will mow down even the most-hirsute of male bodies.
But the Kentucky Derby? Who--why--how--did anyone think that this ad was appropriate?
Shortly after the 60-second horror show, I realized something even more obscene and inappropriate:
Whoever made the decisions about advertising...thinks that women don't watch the Kentucky Derby. Or know, love or participate in horse racing.
This is a problem...
I put this article under the category, Horse Sense because, really...this is a sensible, intelligent argument.
A couple of months ago, immediately after hearing that Ellen McClain was relinquishing the reins of NYRA, I sent an email to a NYRA Board member. In my letter I wrote a very compelling argument for NYRA hiring NOT a corporate wonk--NOT a marketing "genius" from Lexington Avenue, or banker.
And definitely NOT someone who has business chops, but who's never even seen a horse race. More often than not, racing organizations take on people they perceive as being business genii, but they neglect the screamingly obvious...the fact that horse racing is unlike any other sport in the world.
An MBA from Wharton is not important in this sport: an obsessive, passionate, insane-about-horses, heart for the animals and the sport--is the essential credential...
You know, I don't write much or often about actual races--I'm not a turf writer, per se. My "beat," so to speak, seems to be the stuff that others don't deem to be very important.
My role in horse racing often is that of professional pot-stirrer. I'm just fine with that, because I think that writing about horses should be writing from the guts, from the soul of the person at the keyboard.
And when I see, read or hear of something that makes me want to beat someone--I turn instead to my weapon of choice: words.
So today I'm ranting about a beautiful horse. A magnificent horse, a Champion. A horse whose name you've probably never heard, if you're a fan of Thoroughbred racing. And, because American horse racing media seems to be tunnel-visioned--or perhaps just plain bigoted, or stupid--you won't get to see him race on Dubai World Cup Day, either.
The horse is named, TM Fred Texas. He's regally-bred: sired by the outstanding Burning Sand, out of the Kong mare, Queen Kong. He's light grey--almost white, dare I write--beautiful, and runs like his life depends on it.
Fred has won at Churchill Downs, Pimlico (on Preakness Day), Del Park--oh, yes--and at Meydan. This horse has earned his way into every venue where he's kicked equine butt. Tomorrow (March 30, 2013), he'll be at Meydan again, to defend his title: last year he won the Dubai Kahayla Classic.
But if you're an American horse racing fan, you won't get to see him take on the field.
Oh, did I neglect to mention? The reason why you won't see him is that TM Fred Texas is a Purebred Arabian horse...
By now, every horse racing fan on Earth has heard of Black Caviar--the uber-horse from Australia who's won 24 races in a row, as of today. (25 March 2013) This record has not been equaled in over 100 years of Thoroughbred racing.
But her race record is not the most remarkable property of the great mare. No, the thing that strikes me most strongly is that Nelly, as she's affectionately called in her barn and by those of us who love her--so strongly arouses many strong emotions.
Not unlike human females who strive to gain a foothold in the world of horse racing.
As those who know me are aware, I am (sadly) a bit of a skeptic, regarding the good intentions of other human beings. My motto, "The more humans I meet...the more I love horses" didn't come into existence because I sought to be quoted 100 years hence, but rather because, in my experience--most people are not as trustworthy as most horses.
It's sad, but it's true.
Do you recall the Billy Joel song from 1989, "We Didn't Start the Fire"? In rapid succession, he barked out some 100 events and people that had passed through history between 1949 and 1989. The song's staccato beat and the seeming-cacophony of the music always made me anxious. I think that was the point: we heard and sang the names of some very bad people and events, accompanied by rat-tat-tat-tat music--and maybe, just maybe--we might think about the fact that the actions of an individual or of a nation can ripple to every living being on the planet.
Recent events in our sad, weary world have made me think a great deal about this song--and that things haven't changed very much since 1989, except that perhaps they've gotten worse. Greed, anger, prejudice, hatred--the majority of which are fueled by misconceptions, long-held myths or just plain jealousy--run rampant on our beautiful blue marble planet. One day Guy #1 wants to blow up Country #2; the next day, someone else wants to take over Guy #1's nation, and enslave his people.
It goes on and on, so much rage and unwarranted hatred--the names and locations may change, but the results are the same: we live in a fractured world, with imminent threat of extinction at our own hands. How very stupid are we?
I wonder how it looks from the perspective of One whose feet aren't standing anywhere on the planet? How does this bloated bickering look to God?...
Note: A version of this article appeared recently in a magazine. The article was edited, cut down to half its original size--and thereby lost the emphasis on the issue of racing's need for a Commissioner. I've tweaked the piece, because I really want you, my readers, to think about the fact that horse racing is in dire need of direction. It's the only major sport in the United States that doesn't have a regulating body--and that, as we've seen, has led to a mess. States regulate medications, race days and everything else--but there's no formal organization that represents everyone in racing--including the horses--to sit down at table with the states' various boards and talk turkey.
A fine example of how to run a governing body is Svensk Galopp, the Swedish horse racing authority. Svensk Galopp regulates all the racing in Sweden--both Arabian and Thoroughbred. With a Board made up of horsemen and -women at the helm--people who genuinely love horses, and the sport of racing them--Svensk Galopp successfully has run the business of racing for many years. And the Swedes know racing: they've been at it since 1810--a full 53 years before the first horse ran his first race at our beloved Saratoga.
Until American racing has a Commission and a strong, savvy Commissioner--racing will always be at the mercy of the states. And some states, as we've seen, have it in for racing. For some puritanical reason, legally betting on horses is frowned-upon by many in political power. And that prejudice can become a vendetta. Unfortunately, we've seen, up-close and personal, what it looks like when a state takes it upon itself to make Life as difficult as possible for racing organizations.
Ironically, I'll wager that 90% of the politicians who'd like to deep-six horse racing--et illegally on...say...football.
So racing needs a Commission. And a Commissioner who knows the horses, the people and the sport, cold. Someone who wouldn't be afraid to meet in the office of any state regulating board, and tell it like it is.
My vote for Commissioner goes to...
The Hall of Fame trainer is admired by fans and his peers. There are ample reasons for the admiration: the blue-eyed genius knows more about horses than, well, almost anyone.
'tis Derby Day! The Kentucky Derby, the Thoroughbred horse race that comes packin' over 100 years of history, lore, rituals and fanatics. With many thanks to the owners of CDI, we acknowledge that this is the one day every year when we're guaranteed that, even those who don't care about horse racing--will at least turn on NBC to see the race, itself. You never know: a casual observer the first Saturday in May could end up a devoted fan of the sport by the Saratoga meet. One never knows what will spark the imagination: the flash of light in a horse's eye; "The Call to the Post," played with great pomp and reverence; "My Old Kentucky Home,"--for good or for bad, the song evokes something in almost everyone. It may be the view of a jockery, perched atop a gleaming Thoroughbred, the horse's muscles rippling in the Louisville sunshine...
I had coffee one day this year with an acquaintance, a businesswoman who's very good at what she does. Educated, smart, sharp and seemingly in control of her emotions (not necessarily a good thing, mind you)--her outer veneer bespoke a woman who has no time for drivel.
And certainly not for the obsession with the lives of others with whom she is not acquainted.
And yet, this woman who might not cross the street to save a dying kitten was very upset about the pending divorce of two friends. Or so I thought.
"Isn't it sad? About John and Kate?" she implored.
"John and Kate." "John and Kate." I wracked my brain and my intercranial Rolodex for the names, scouring to conjur faces of people whom this lady thought we knew in common.
"You know. From the TV show. "Jon and Kate Plus 8!"
I had no idea about whom she was speaking. I must have had the look of someone who just landed on Earth from another planet, earnestly trying to figure out how to use a pepper grinder, for she kept at it until she realized that I was clueless, and could not therefore share her grave concern for this couple and their children. (Apparently I misspelled John's first name in my ignorance and mental scrambling, also.)
My coffee companion was angered by the fact that I neither knew nor cared about this couple and their current angst. I mean, she was sincerely upset with me. Maybe she knew them as friends who just happened to get a TV show?
Nope. The smart businesswoman had never met the two; she lived some 3,000 miles away from their drama and yet she was extraordinarily disturbed because apparently they were going through the throes of divorce.
For the record, I responded by telling her that I didn't give a tiny rat's patootie: if Jon and Kate--or any other celebrity--doesn't care about the status of my Life, why should I be obsessed with theirs? Not a satisfactory response, from the lecture I received about my "hardness of heart." (Her extreme reaction may have been the result of the gallons of caffeine she'd consumed during our klatch. She'd inhaled lattes like a man on Death Row....)
I am constantly amazed by the ways in which horses choose to communicate with we mere humans: recognizing that we homo sapiens are the ones who forgot how to talk Horse--not the other way 'round--members of the equine species will go out of their way to get their point across to mortals, to get what they need or want from us.
And, being that horses are ultimately intuitive--intuition has kept the species around for over four million years--even the smallest, quietest flicker of a candle in a window can signal salvation for a horse. We humans are so busy striving to stay alive in this dog-eat-dog world--that of the predator--that we forget that the best way to survive and thrive actually is quite the opposite. Rather than looking to predators for advice, we should observe instead the quiet ways of the prey, whose powers of observation must, by necessity, be more finely-tuned than those of the aggressor.
I'm thinking about a mare I met at a party, 20+ years ago: the Wisdom, calm and trust that she exhibited that dark Winter night and my first experience with the real mystical properties of The Horse left an impression with me that has informed many of my thoughts and relationships in the two decades since the encounter...
Worry not, I shall write a great deal more about Rachel Alexandra as the week goes on and we get closer to Woodward Stakes Day. Me, and every other racing writer in North America. The time I spent in the Queen's royal presence last Monday morning gave me ample material to write a book, or a screenplay. I wish Jess Jackson would love my writing, and ask me to document his big horse's life for the silver screen. Rachel is not only a feast for the eyes and food for the soul--she's worth her weight in printer's ink.
I'll whet your appetite for the whole story from last week by telling you tell you that, in the midst of the storm that surrounds her--the mighty, invincible, unequaled Rachel Alexandra is a model of serenity. On Monday morning I dubbed her, Her Serene Highness, for I believe that this is her archetypal name, the moniker that was written in the stars before she was born.
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