Recently in Horse Sense Category
I've been thinking about this for several weeks now. Like many of you who are involved with horse racing--I spend part of every day of my Life feeling guilty, and thinking that I should just pack it up and take a job as secretary to some corporate moron.
You know--a 9-to-5 gig, in which I never take work home with me, not even mentally. Mindless, spineless--no emotional connection to the job, the work or my co-workers. Get a (slim) paycheck for basically putting up with the control issues of a corporate wonk with low self-esteem.
I know that I can't go back to that--but also I can't justify being in horse racing, unless I DO Something. Horse racing has its detractors--and some of the criticism is justified.
But racing also has its fine, amazing points: chief among those are The Horses...
Last night I attended the NYRA Public Forum in Saratoga. The Forum was held at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, in the gorgeous Hall of Fame, itself. (A space that's easy to take for granted--sitting among the names of the greatest horses, jockeys and trainers in a comfy chair--it's easy to forget that you're in an actual shrine--THE shrine--to our sport.)
So. Race fans and locals to Saratoga, alike, have whined for years, that they want to ask questions of NYRA officials, and get answers. (If I hear one more person say that there should be a forum that's open to the public--I'll scream.) And yet, only approximately 60 people showed up, of 125 who could be accommodated. (I shudder to think that there may be more race fans who can't figure out how to do an RSVP, than know how to place a bet...?)
Moving on: NYRA hosted the Public Forum--and five of the highest-up-the-food-chain were there:
Christopher K. Kay, CEO and President
David O'Roure, Vice President of Corporate Development
Glen Kozak, Vice President of Facilities & Racing Surfaces
P.J. Campo, Vice President & Director of Racing and
Patric Mahony, Senior Vice President of Pari-Mutuel Operations
Ergo, every aspect of NYRA's operations was covered by the presence of these five people. No one with a question could gripe that,
"Well, the right guy wasn't there..."
Ahhhh, race fans...another big weekend at in horse racing is upon us. Not just A big weekend, THE Big Weekend. This weekend, for those of you who don't travel to Saratoga for the races--or have yet to experience the majesty--or who may be in a full bodycast:
This is the weekend that will see SIX--count 'em, six--stakes races with purses over $100,000.
The million-dollar Travers Stakes--which dates back to 1864--will be run on Saturday, August 24th. The purse, $1,000,000, indeed is a tasty prize: only the country's best three-year-old males are expected to race. Orb, Verrazano and Palace Malice will go up against each other, and those who dare face that wholly unholy trinity. ;)
I really, really, really need to point out here that the Travers is NOT restricted to males, only--it just happens that there are no females in the race this year. Can we ever just make a statement like that, regarding female race horses, and let it just sit as a single statement? Not go into a whole discussion about female horses vs. male horses? As the late, great Jess Jackson said, let's just take our best horses. Put them on the track, and let them run against each other...
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has an annual ritual that I love. Everyone who's local loves it, because for five hours once a year, the magnificent Saratoga Race Course is wide-open to the public. No admission fee (and hey, the charge to get in during racing season is CHEAP, anyway)--but on this day, the public is invited to charge, cruise, meander, mosey, job, slide, shuffle through the storied gates free-of-charge.
And once you're in the gates, you get to experience all kinds of fun, both horse-themed and family-oriented.
(This year, NYRA gives a special gift to the community because this year Open House is being billed as the Opening Ceremonies for the 150th anniversary season of Saratoga Race Course. In case you live under a rock or on Mars, or for some other reason aren't-yet aware, Saratoga Race Course is the oldest race course in America--and the oldest sporting venue of ANY kind in the entire United States. Pretty cool.)
Cooler-still is the fact that this very special day presents an opportunity for you--yes, YOU--to help grow the sport of horse racing. How? I'm glad you asked...
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...
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.
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.
Tra-lee, tra-la, '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...