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The curtain has come down.
The Saratoga race meet is over.
Tom Durkin has left the building.
For all intents and purposes, now it is the Autumn Racing Season, and with it come Belmont, Keeneland, Breeders' Cup, etc.
So today's the first day of going back to Business as Usual. No more sultry Saratoga nights. No more parties, and running into friends I haven't seen in years.
No more gentle amusement every time I hear Lily, the pygmy goat, bleat.
No more gentleness, at all. As the camaraderie of the backstretch and Lily's plaintive requests for attention slip away with the last Summer breezes, we begin to hunker down for Winter.
Autumn is the transition time, that gracious space in-between the blood-boiling heat of Summer's many lusty conquests and the same blood, freezing dead-still in your veins.
Along with the bright orange, red and yellow leaves and the crisp Autumn air comes the b***h-slap of Reality. And today that Reality beat me out of my nostalgia for Saratoga, and headlong into the painful realization that the Suffragist movement hasn't yet made it to American horse racing, for we women get virtually NO vote. And you know it's true...
On Saturday I had the privilege of hanging in the Saratoga (Race Course) backstretch with two friends: a dear grrrlfriend and her horse-loving, 10-year-old daughter. (I'm not giving their names, because they know their names and you don't need to.)
My friend and I sat in our lawn chairs near our picnic table in the hour-or-so before the races, and her little one sat at the table, her back to the track. Her back was toward the track, but in front of her lie the pony stalls and scores of barns. The constant clip-clop of horses walking all around filled the air: outriders on their ponies, horses walking to the paddock. And the neighing and nickering of all of those beautiful, sublime creatures.
And our little friend? She was fiddling with her Mother's iPhone, joyously seeking something. She found it! Happily, she held aloft the phone and showed us: "Look! A picture of a horse!"
I just heard that, when Suffolk Downs starting gate flung open for the first time in 1935--35,000 people were there for Opening Day.
Wow, Suffolk Downs must've had a great Facebook page. No doubt, they tweeted every five minutes. Their webmaster was a genius.
Their--oh, no. Wait. What's that, you say?
Suffolk Downs got 35,000 human beings onto their new racetrack in 1935, when newspapers, radio and word-of-mouth were the only media available to the masses?
How the heck did they do that? How could 35,000 people hear about the opening of a new track without all the modern technologies that lead us by our collective noses in 2014?
(In our 21st Century, geek-culture-centric heads, too many of you wonder: "...sans smartphones, iPads, notebook computers, clouds and 164" TV screens--how did people hear about ANYthing?")
And further--if people did read the newspaper; listen to the radio or hear it from a neighbor--what motivated them to travel by the T (Boston public transit)--by foot--a few cars--to pilgrimage to the new track?
Hay, oats and water for thought...
The sport of horse racing never will grow--doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of finding its way back to the glory days of the 1930s--as long as racing organizations and media continue to attempt to win new fans by putting the emphasis on wagering.
The phrase, "horse racing," begins with the word, "horse." This is the only logical place from which to grow a healthy fanbase of lifelong fanatics.
NYRA--the New York Racing Association--is starting a brilliant new program this summer in Saratoga, and it's a concept that will grab young hearts; inspire imagination and grow the sport, from the ground, up...
I've written about the NYRA starting gate crew in the past, including here at Saratoga.com.
I believe that previous missives have been "love letters," so to speak. Gushy and full of admiration for the Cowboys of Horse Racing.
But tonight I'm writing about them--but to you, my readers, specifically.
If you're reading this, you're probably a fan of horse racing. Ergo, chances are pretty great that on June 7th you'll be either a) at Beautiful Belmont Park or b) glued to your TV or computer screen, watching every minute of the action.
But are you catching ALL the action? Might you be at the races or otherwise watching with new fans? Friends who don't know all the people who make racing happen?
Do me a favor. Do yourself a favor--and your new-fan friends a favor--and watch carefully the actions, facial expressions and intense professionalism exhibited by the NYRA Gate Crew. Theirs is never an easy job--and God knows, on Belmont Stakes Day, with the Triple Crown on the line (AGAIN), they'll have challenges that happen no other day of the year.
But the challenges aren't necessarily what you think...
If you read that title and thought that I have a clue about what will happen--well, sorry.
I have no clue.
I've been at Belmont and wept big, sloppy tears when Funny Cide and Smarty Jones lost their bids for the Triple Crown. Like a woman who's loved and lost too many times, I can't afford once again to hang my emotions on a Triple Crown hopeful, then spend three hours after a loss, crying on the paddock patio.
It would be nice if Chrome wins the Triple Crown. It's not necessary, but it would be nice.
Don't expect to see me crying like a little girl during the next three weeks. I won't spend one minute of time nodding and agreeing that I'll lose my mind if he doesn't win. I won't have a psychotic break if Ride on Curlin or another great horse crosses that line first. I'm not emotionally invested, because...it's a horse race. It's not called, "a sure thing," and it shouldn't be. This is about gladiators, duking it out to see who's The Best that day.
All I know--and all you know--is that Chrome will have a bull's-eye on the back of his head. Those other horses will be there to beat him.
Last night a friend suggested that, basically, that it would be nice if "they" let him win.
That's was cute, but it's naive, to think that trainers and owners would fly their horses into Belmont--spend all that money, energy and emotion--just to let California Chrome win. That sacrificing their own careers and the health and careers of their own steeds would be worth it, in order to have a Triple Crown winner.
Question: How valid would be that victory for Chrome and his team? Answer: It would be no victory, at all...
Today it was announced that Thoroughbred, Ria Antonia, will race in Saturday's Preakness Stakes. The first thought that went through my head was, "Aw, jeez. Here it comes..."
Kentucky has Bourbon and Big Hats.
Baltimore has the insanely-valuable Preakness Trophy.
But New York...well, we've got Cool...
Well, well, well. It seems that, no matter how hard they try--Churchill Downs, that is, CDI, the corporate giant that owns Churchill Downs and therefore, the Kentucky Derby--keeps stepping in it.
In fact, it appears that CDI's responsible for the big pile into which they keep stepping. In the space of 10 days or so, they've managed to alienate virtually everyone who actually matters in horse racing. Except, that is, the bimbo starlets whom they pay to attend the races for a couple of days in May...
So much has been written about me in the last week, and will be written about my tribe of equines in the near future. Concerned about my welfare and that of members of my society, humans are all up in arms today, worried--ranting and reporting--bout our welfare.
And we appreciate that--really, we do.
But it strikes us that the problem really is more complicated than the media would have us believe:
* Everyone's acting like this is a revelation, that allegedly, a horse trainer did bad things to members of my tribe.
* Everyone's acting like allegations such as these happen only in Thoroughbred racing.
* Every time something like this happens, humans get all fuss-and-feathers, and start squawking that this is a "wake-up call," as if it's the first time anyone has heard of anything like it.
* Horse racing is not the only sport that uses members of my equine tribe, and yet it's been singled out as being satan, incarnate. YES, the sport IS in dire need of fixing. You humans have GOT to get your act together, and put us--noting but us--first and foremost. Otherwise, all this ridiculous, political infighting will keep men in blue suits rich and us, unprotected.
* We haven't heard about an expose in any major newspaper "busting wide open" the disgusting, evil practice of soring.
* And the "New York Times" has printed several articles that side with the New York City horse carriage trade.
From our perspective--this is wildly inconsistent. Either you care about the welfare of ALL we horses--or you don't. Either the "Times" is a real newspaper--or it has an agenda far-deeper than exposing horse abuse. And that agenda, itself, should be investigated. Is the "Times" receiving money from some politician who hates horse racing? Does the paper need simply to sell more rags?
And I'm thinking that horse carriage drivers don't dine in five-star restaurants, so the perks of investigating them aren't as cool as hanging with Thoroughbred trainers. (The "Times" does a lot of citing of veterinarians and quotes by carriage drivers who lament the possible loss of their careers and their lifestyles. Hmmmm...)
It's obvious to us that you humans can't decide which horse welfare causes are worthy of your time, and which can be swept under the rug. Your priorities are as messed up as your human society, itself.
So I have decided that the time had come for me to tell you about myself, and about members of my tribe. Clearly, you people need some education. And you need to realize that the American attitude about horse welfare for ALL horses must be changed, or nothing will change, at all...