Sunday, June 8, 2008

Almost History

Have you ever watched a sporting event you weren’t particularly interested in, just because of the chance to witness history?

That was me on Saturday, when I tuned into the Belmont Stakes, hoping to see Big Brown become the first horse in 30 years to win the Triple Crown. It seemed a foregone conclusion; despite a crack in his left front hoof, Big Brown seemed destined to wax a weak field made weaker by the scratching of Casino Drive Saturday morning.

Only once the race started and the workers pulled the gate back … it didn’t happen. Big Brown never went, not even when jockey Kent Desourmaux asked him to. Da’Tara led the race wire-to-wire, screwing up a lot of bets and ensuring a small few just became rich.

All indications are that Big Brown is fine physically, a relief given the tragedy that followed the Kentucky Derby. Horse racing didn’t need another black eye so soon, and if Big Brown had to be euthanized, it was quite possible the sport would’ve never recovered.

But the horse is fine, and I credit Desourmaux for that. He could’ve pushed Big Brown down the stretch for a good finish, but fearing something might’ve been wrong – possibly with the hoof, possibly something else, Desourmaux pulled the reigns and slowed Big Brown. The horse trotted home dead-last, but Desourmaux’s concerns at that point mirrored my own – the horse’s health.

Big Brown might race again this year, or he might spend the rest of his life as a stud – either way, Big Brown has a bright future and he has Desourmaux to thank for some of that.

I’m disappointed Big Brown didn’t win the Triple Crown; I still believe in the history and the magic of sport, and the Triple Crown is so difficult that to witness it is to witness history. Eleven horses have tried since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, and all 11 failed.

Big Brown included.

I’m not a horse racing fan; never have been, never will be. I’m not a fan of a sport that ends so soon after hours and weeks of build-up. Pundits and writers go on and on for two weeks about the Kentucky Derby, and it’s literally over in two minutes. It feels like a buzz-kill; just as I get excited for something, it’s over.

I’m also not a fan of the gambling aspect of it; I realize gambling is inherent in virtually every sport, but boxing aside, gambling is rampant in horse racing more so than any other. Sometimes I think horse racing exists only for betting, and I can’t get behind a sport supported by such degenerates.

This has nothing to do with animal rights – PETA was way out of line after Eight Belles died – because I realize there is risk and danger in virtually every sport. And how can I whine about the horse’s safety when I watch a sport in NASCAR, where 43 men are literally around the corner from death at every lap?

But for a brief moment on Saturday, horse racing almost had me. I was ready to witness history, to be a part of something so rare and so big, I’d be telling my children about it 10, 15 years from now. Instead, horse racing endures another near-miss in what has been a tough year for the sport.

In a way, the near-misses can be good for the sport. Drama, suspense and the fact that every time a horse captures both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, we’ll discuss the possibility for three solid weeks. I’m just disappointed Big Brown didn’t accomplish the historic feat.

Will the Triple Crown ever be captured? Possibly; I just hope I’m around to see it.

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