June 9, 2009 in Sports

Humans get short shrift in horse racing

Norman Chad
 

As a sometime member of the human race, Couch Slouch would like to extend an apology on behalf of other humans to fellow human Calvin Borel.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To understand why human error has slighted Borel, first we must recount, as well as humanly possible, how bad horse sense got us to this apologetic state of affairs:

The best 3-year-old thoroughbred in the nation – Rachel Alexandra – did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

(Oh, sure, she was at Churchill Downs that weekend, but she ran in a race there the day before; apparently, the filly had a previous commitment on Derby Day.)

Then, after winning the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra decided not to run in the Belmont Stakes.

(My goodness, this horse has a busier social calendar than the Duchess of Cornwall. Plus, I’m told, Rachel Alexandra didn’t even TiVo the race.)

Still, horse racing – long lamented as a dying sport – got an unprecedented break: The person who rode 50-1 shot Mine That Bird to victory in the Kentucky Derby, Borel, then rode Rachel Alexandra to victory in the Preakness. So, at the Belmont, Borel – aboard Mine That Bird again – had a chance to become the first jockey to sweep the Triple Crown races on different horses.

Now, in a watered-down sports world in which we treat NBA playoff triple doubles as reverentially as Wilma Rudolph’s triple gold-medal performance, this would seem remarkable.

And yet …

Nobody cared.

We’ve been told, time and again, that a Triple Crown winner could save horse racing. Yes, they meant a horse.

But if a human comes along and does something that’s never been done before Triple Crown-wise, how do other humans collectively yawn at such a feat?

What, we’re supposed to feel a greater emotional attachment to, say, Big Brown than Calvin Borel?

Big Brown is A HORSE.

Calvin Borel is A HUMAN.

Humans produce art and music, science and math; horses produce massive horse droppings along the Central Park Bridle Path.

If Neil Armstrong had been the first man to walk on the moon alongside a horse, would we remember the horse more than the man?

When’s the last time you saw a funeral procession for a gelding, or a gerbil?

As a culture – and I think I can speak here for all cultures, from Norwegian fishing villages to Peruvian Incas to Pennsylvania Dutch – we tend to invest most of our passion to those areas of life that involve people, rather than animals, lampposts or sagebrush.

I love horses, but not a single one of them is crossing the finish line without a human sitting in the saddle.

(Secretariat was a great athlete, but he wouldn’t know the difference between a racetrack and a rock concert.)

Trust me – you can lead a horse to the starting gate, but you can’t make him think he should run unless you tell him. That’s where the Calvin Borels of the world come in.

(When Paul Revere galloped famously on his midnight ride to save us from the Brits, were folks toasting the stallion the next day at a Boston pub? Of course not! No one can even name the horse; for all we know, Paul Revere was riding a flying Lipizzaner that night.)

To me, a Calvin Crown would’ve been comparable to the Tiger Slam, minus a caddy. And during its Belmont coverage Saturday, ABC dutifully tried to hype Borel’s bid for history, but America wasn’t buying it.

(By the way, ABC’s Jeannine Edwards reported that, just before the race, Mine That Bird was “quite rambunctious … bucking and kicking and playing.” Humans don’t do that stuff, unless, maybe, it’s John Daly.)

As it turns out, Borel fell three lengths shy of overlooked immortality, and many blamed him for making his move on Mine That Bird too soon.

But people shouldn’t be too hard on Borel – after all, he’s only human.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Another interminably boring baseball season is upon us. Without the Summer Olympics to provide distraction this year, I fear I will wander a televised wilderness. Are there any summer sports I can follow besides baseball to occupy myself? (Luke Hickey; Austin, Tex.)

A. Late at night, I love grazing upon the ESPN family of networks until I hear, “He needs a king – and a king only – or he is wamboozled!” Then all is right with my world.

Q. I know The Slouch is anti-progress, but certainly someone with your TV cravings favors cameras in the Supreme Court, no? (Dan Hart; Atlanta)

A. Think about it, sir. Today: Supreme Court on TV. Tomorrow: “Supreme Court Tonight” on ESPN2.

Q. Do you play bridge? I’m sick of playing with the blue hairs. (Chris Tolles; Los Angeles)

A. I just won a no-limit bridge tournament when I went all-in with a bid of 3■ and my Uncle Irving folded no-trump.

Q. When you “retire” a wife, do you hoist a banner with her number to the ceiling of your house? (Mark A. Sparacino; Franklin, Wis.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!


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