ELMONT, New York—Do you know who Man o’ War was? Kelso? Citation?
If not, you may be a fascist or communist spy. I know what you’re thinking—“But I’m not a fascist or communist spy! And it’s 2013!” All I’m saying is that that’s exactly what an enemy spy would say and, in any case, you can never be too careful.
Just kidding. There was a time when not knowing the above answers might blow your American cover (at least in a war movie), but that era has long since passed. Horse racing – once one of the nation’s most popular sports—is on its last legs.
The difficulty of presenting racing on TV is partially to blame. The rise of gambling alternatives—mostly the legal lottery but also casinos—have also dealt a blow.
But horses have a funny way of bringing old, cigar-smoking diehards and little girls together. I dreamed of being a jockey and was on horseback as soon as I was allowed to be. But if you ride horses, you fall. When you fall, you get back on (or you go to the hospital, which is a little less poetic). It occurred to me, after a particularly nasty spill at horse camp, that I could get back on without making a career out of the whole thing.
Still, I’ll always love horse racing. The sport is far from perfect: there are consistently allegations of doping, abuse, and race-fixing. But I can’t help it—there’s something special about Belmont Park. It lacks the gritty ambience of many other tracks, and I have happy memories of rainy afternoons spent eating Nathan’s hot dogs and spectating (being too young to bet and too fond of rules/authority to try to).
Belmont’s best on days like these, when only the regulars are out. And by “out” I mean inside, watching races from all over the country on the simulcasting monitors, so that I have the rail pretty much to myself. Up close, thoroughbreds really are beautiful and elegant—often overbred, a little dumb, and more than a little crazy, but, really, nice to look at. I also feel a certain camaraderie with the jockeys who are not only equestrians but belong to that rare class of people who are shorter than I am.
This July 4th, I’ll be at the track. If you can get away from your German/Soviet handler for a little while, try it. I wager you’ll like it.
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