Monday, March 23, 2009

End of an Error


A friend of mine is dying. Sometimes that's not such a bad thing. If it were a person, there might be more sadness. But I'm not talking about a person. A friend nonetheless. Someone who's always there, offers non-judgmental support, and inspires hope, ingenuity, creativity, and my best efforts. Like a true friend, this one comes with issues, too. Complete frustration, aggravation, anger, despair. But resilience, redemption, affirmation, optimism. Like me, my friend has contradictions. In fact, my friend is a mirror, a metaphor, an omen, an art form.
Some would call my friend a sport, others a curse. No matter, for many, like me, it's a passion. It's also a sub-culture, an alternate universe, and occasionally an indulgence. But it's dying. My friend is Horse Racing.
Tell you what I'm not gonna do...I'm not gonna bemoan the loss. I'm not gonna drone on about the good old days. I'm not gonna play the blame game. Death is life. The game is changing.
It's changing and dying like the newspaper, the book, and the television. Doesn't mean we have to like it, and doesn't even mean it's inevitable. Here's a case in point, the book. I'm one of those people who will never use a Kindle. Oh I know never say never, but I said it and I'll say it again, I'll never use a Kindle. It's a lock, take it to the bank, go to the window, bet the farm.
I heard today that some manufacturers are even considering a tattered leather cover and "book smell" for the Kindle. I think books, just like newspapers and horse racing, are worth saving. If we are concerned about our ecological and environmental legacy, then we ought to be concerned about our cultural legacy.
Horse racing is not just gambling. It's history. It's an industry that employs hundreds of thousands, it's an aesthetically pleasing sport, it's mentally challenging, it's an escape, it's fun. I'm one of those folks who would follow the sport and attend the races if there were no gambling. But people don't go anymore, that's part of the problem. They watch on cable channels, on their computers, or at off track simulcast sites. In their infinite wisdom, the leaders of the thoroughbred industry don't get how to market their sport. They don't get that so many of the reasons it could become as popular as it used to be have very little to do with gambling. They, like Wall St. executives, insurance executives, real estate brokers, and the worst kind of speculators are often only motivated by greed, power, or narcissism. Exceptions exist, of course, but for the most part they are disconnected from the lives and values of most folks.
Enter the Animal Planet reality series "Jockeys." Sure it's a bit contrived, it focuses on the dark side like spills, injuries, and hardship a bit too much, (It is television, after all) and anyone with even basic knowledge of the sport can see right through the fake race calls and manipulation of the time it takes to go from the saddling paddock to the starting gate. But it does present real people; gives a face and set of emotions to the players, and most importantly of all, demonstrates the love of the horse.
The elevation of the horse is the key. We who love the sport know this. It's the answer, and it's always been right in front of us the whole time. Simple as that is, what isn't simple is the convergence of several factors, all at once, that still might not forestall the demise of racing. Technology and economics, to be sure. But the recent rash of breakdowns in high profile races, along with steroid use that coincides with other major sports leaves not only a bad taste in potential fan's mouths, it does something even more damaging. It reinforces and inflates all the stereotypes hovering on the horizon. All the misinformation and bizarre notions the detractors of the sport depend on to lay it in the grave.
I believe in he myth of the eternal return. This is not the time to define that powerful truth. Let me just say that my friend will not die. My friend will be on life support for a while yet, but death will yield to re-invention. More to follow.

1 comment:

Alykat said...

This post hit very close to my heart, since horse racing is a very dear friend of mine who also serves to inspire me and bring me joy. But I will confess that I have spent more time on Youtube watching races from 10, 20, 50 years ago than I have watching the Derby preps this year. It blows my mind that the biggest concerns in the industry are the need for slot machines, dodging real estate developers and the fact that yearlings are selling for less than one million dollars.
What happened to going to the track for the thrill of hoofbeats and the beauty of the horses?