A horse is a horse, of course, of course, until the Belmont Stakes

135th Kentucky DerbyHow do we explain our intermittent obsession with horse racing?

For three short minutes, three times a year, we drop everything we’re doing, put on a funny hat, make ourselves mint juleps and glue ourselves to the nearest television screen anticipating something that none of us really understand: a midget on top of a horse convincing it to travel as fast as it can.

I don’t mean to belittle the sport of kings but let’s be honest.  Despite its lengthy heritage and rich tradition in this country, the sport goes relatively undiscussed for 362 days a year.

We celebrate horses like Affirmed or Seattle Slew or Secretariat (coincidentally the last three thoroughbreds to win the Triple Crown) as part of our nation’s sporting history and for some inexplicable reason we can’t wait to honor another.  We rooted for California Chrome to win the Preakness on Sunday harder than we root against LeBron James… and that’s saying something.

California Chrome wins DerbyThis weekend, California Chrome had a chance to etch his name into the annals of all things equine but came up short, finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.  Since Affirmed last accomplished that feat in 1978, 13 horses have come and gone, winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but falling victim to the longer track at Belmont.

And so we wait another year.

But what is it that we’re waiting for?  Is it just to witness history?  Why is it that we all want this so badly?

We just saw Miguel Cabrera become the first man to win baseball’s Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.  We celebrated that accomplishment… for a minute.

When the next horse wins a Triple Crown, whenever that may be, will the heavens open up and horse feathers fall magically from the sky?

Secretariat Super HorseWe should be careful what we wish for.  Such news is sure to warrant the incessantly annoying and overblown coverage ESPN will provide about the horse, its owner, its trainer and its jockey, inevitably labeling them among the best of all time.

Aside from all that nonsense, however, what significance will that moment hold for us?

Perhaps I’m not giving the sport enough credit.  Perhaps I’m diminishing the time and effort it takes to develop a championship horse.  Perhaps it’s only because I consistently lose money at the track with not even the faintest idea how to pick a winner.  Perhaps I don’t wear a funny enough hat.

I watched the race on Sunday.  So did 21 million other viewers.  According to the Nielsen ratings, it was the most watched Belmont Stakes since, you guessed it, Big Brown attempted to complete the Triple Crown in 2008.

So is it that we’re all just interested in witnessing history?  History happens all around us every day all.  All we have to do is pay attention.  What is it about that moment in horse racing that enthralls us so?

There must be some reasonable explanation.

And what if it doesn’t happen for another while longer?  Is that good or bad for the sport?  Does horse racing need a Triple Crown winner to survive or just the talk of it?  Professional boxing has fallen by the wayside for a number of reasons but primarily because we no longer have a heavyweight champion to believe in.  Is that what we long for?  Will a horse that wins three consecutive races suddenly make us feel better?

Clearly I don’t know jack about horse racing.  What I do know is that, like the rest of us, I’ll still watch because I’m supposed to.  I’m just unsure about what I’m cheering for.

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23 Replies to “A horse is a horse, of course, of course, until the Belmont Stakes”

  1. Golden Chrome , a horse that simply wasn’t good enough and whining #sshole as an owner who knows nothing about the meaning of sportsmanship or losing gracefully. Wonder why horse racing the sport of boxing has become a complete frigging joke in North America ? Quality of the equine stock is putrid , much like the jockey , the tracks and racing in general .

  2. People just want to witness history. Saying you “saw it” is sort of a badge of honor.

    Unlike the badge of dishonor the whiny owner wins for his rant after the race. All smiles before the race…horse loses, then all of a sudden it was unfair. STFU, douchebag.

    Even if according to PETA it is just an evil midget beating a poor innocent horse with a whip to please the degenerate gambling masses, it’s still history…Especially when there’s a triple crown possible.

    Personally, I could give a shit about most racing in general but I did catch this anti climactic pony show. The best part was seeing that clown owner lose it.

  3. I think it’s just rooting for history… and because it’s such a quick race, that it is more exciting that way. That and you can win money off it… and say you witnessed history. As for the worldwide leader, I don’t think they would cover it as much as you think. It’s just not a big get for them… don’t get me wrong, they will cover it but it won’t be anything like Tebow, the Miami Heat, the Red Sox and Yankees, or whatever else…

  4. Okay, Al, with all due respect to your comments, let’s stick to the point at hand.

    Did you watch the race?

    Were you surrounded by people that watched the race?

    Were they rooting for California Chrome in abundance?

    And why do you think that is?

  5. Yea, but Bleed, therein lies the whole irony?

    What are people gonna tell their grandchildren? That they watched California Chrome win the Triple Crown on TV? Big whoop! That’s assuming horse racing will be anything in forty years (i.e., replaced by robots) and assuming those watching it now know what the fuck they’re even talking about?

    I get that it’s riveting… and I’m not trying to disrespect the sport (although I am a little disappointed I didn’t get any angry horse racey people telling me I didn’t know shit from shinola.)

    I think any pub is good pub, including the owner of Chrome saying bringing in fresh horses for the Belmont was unfair. Hey, at least it got people talking about horse racing.

    P.S. Neigh!

  6. KP…

    I guess.

    But to say one witnessed history for the sake of saying it? I’m not buying it.

    What ties us to this horse? Or any of them?

    What happens if we root for the horse then the owner turns out to be, well, like the owner of Chrome turned out to be?

    Then what?

  7. Chris,
    Interview after the Preakness Colburn was bitching about the hospitality. IOW they didn’t kiss his ass pre-Derby. Btw, the guy looks like a walking heart attack in jeans. He prolly has no clue about the raised % take-out across the board @ Churchill. Here’s his comments:

    “I’ve said this once, I’ve said it 50 times, Churchill Downs needs to call Maryland to get a lesson in hospitality,” Coburn said. “Because these people right here(Pim), they’ve treated us like we’re royalty, and I can’t say thank you enough.”
    The man is out of line in both interviews. A typical case of head gettting big too fast.

  8. The following Monday morning he issued an apology that very few in the 21 million previous viewers heard. What was really hilarious was after his sour grapes rant his wife told him to stfu and he then started on her. Just the epitome of a low class hick.

  9. Yeah, the owner was a classless jerk! It’s always been that way. In fact they showed that it is statistically easier to win the Triple Crown today than it has ever been. That’s what makes the Triple Crown so special. You have to win all three races against fresh horses!

  10. I watched the race and the horse had a bad draw and Espinosa (jockey) made several mistakes in the lead-up to the final stretch . Besides , history was dead set against the favorite . Can I be anymore succinct than that ?

  11. Bets…

    Yeah, that whole thing was an interesting case study.

    I loved how he shushed his wife during that initial post-race interview. She knew he was putting his foot in his mouth for all to see.

  12. Al…

    Wade is only one of Miami’s many problems.

    If they don’t right this ship quickly, it’ll be bye bye Miami and oh… five championship rings for Tim Duncan.

  13. Watching the Heat in this series is like watching the Titanic as it approaches the iceberg . The odds of them overcoming this deficit is unlikely . The Miami Heast’s bench have been a tremendous letdown , beyond Wade’s inconsistencies this postseason. Kawhi Leonard will be the likely Finals’ MVP for the series given his performances for the Spurs .

    Man things are looking bad in baseball at present . Where are the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers ? Teams I thought that they would be playing with a great deal more consistency .

    What happens now with Sterling’s hiring of not only a high-profiled law firm for his suit against the NBA but also one of Los Angeles’ biggest private investigation firms to seek out any irregularities in the behavior of the NBA hierarchy’s conduct and that of the owners ? I don’t think that Mark Cuban , James Dolan , much less Mikhail Prokhorov want anyone delve into their private lives , much less their business dealings , especially the Nets’ owner .

    This is the mess created by the league, in not addressing the conduct of its owners , when they behave so egregiously . It’s the same with the NFL and Goodell’s lack of action concerning Jim Irsay .

    The NBA and NFL’s image may well viewed as being great , but in reality , the leadership and their respective unions remain damn clueless .

    tophatal ……………………

  14. What is the point at hand Chris ? I mean you’re always sticking to issues but never really willing to look beyond that at all. Explain to me how you fail to see that California Chrome wasn’t good enough ?

    Odds on the Heat landing ‘melo, better than even ?

    It’s not the fight that is left in the dog , but whether or not, its bark and bite might send you running

    Buyer beware, caveat being, we need our racists, idiots running and blemishing the reputation of sports

    It is all about me

    tophatal ……….

  15. That NBA Finals was a clinic, Al. I’m not sure I can remember a more lopsided Finals. Lakers-Magic maybe? I mean, the Spurs were just toying with Miami the entire series.

    Re: California Chrome, did I ever hint that the horse wasn’t good enough? How could that horse not be good enough. It had just won its previous two races. I’m not quite sure where you read that. That wasn’t the point of the piece at all actually.

    Kaymer was definitely dialed in this weekend. Led to an anticlimactic weekend of golf for everyone except him though. With everything else going on in sports right now, I’ll bet you anything that was one of the least watched US Opens in recent history.

  16. Were you looking simply for an average horse to achieve a feat that in reality is only done by select few truly great equines ? California Chrome is nowhere near to being on the same level as the horses that have accomplished the Triple Crown . Each year the NTRA tries to sell the public on this idiocy . The quality of racing nationwide is lackluster and has been for the past several years .

    Kaymer ‘schooled” that field with great play over the entire four rounds of golf. An eight-shot margin of victory and he was never truly challenged .

  17. Like I stated in the piece, Al, I don’t know much about horse racing.

    I was merely asking why the average joe becomes glued to the television set to watch a race, and openly roots for a horse, that is on the verge of winning the triple crown.

    Your answer?

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