Earlier this week, the internet lit up with the news of the birth of Rachel Alexandra’s first foal, a colt by Curlin. Stonestreet Farm released a statement, photos, and video; good wishes, congratulations, and coverage exploded on news sites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
On Friday afternoon, delight turned to unease as rumors began to surface about Rachel Alexandra or the colt being ill, and late in the afternoon, Stonestreet confirmed that both were at Rood and Riddle as a “precautionary measure…for pain management related to the birth.”
It didn’t take long before a merry (mostly) war broke out on Twitter last night about what Stonestreet said and when they should have said it.
Writers (this one included), fans, farm employees, owners, and trainers all chimed in, the tweets fast and furious, the mood frenetic, the voices passionate. On one side, those who believe that Stonestreet should have released more information and earlier in the day, in response to fan anxiety. On the other, those who think that Stonestreet has the right to deal with any possible medical problem (or any other news) as it sees fit, in its own time and on its own terms.
I am in the latter camp. Among Stonestreet’s many considerations yesterday, I think that satisfying fans’ anxiety and media curiosity is way down on the list. I heard yesterday cries for transparency in the sport, and I wondered: transparency about what? This isn’t about wagering (yes, I know, there’s a prop bet about the foal making it to the Derby, but can we agree that we don’t have to consider that sort of ridiculousness here?), so why does the public need to know immediately the details of the mare’s and foal’s health? When does a wish for transparency become prurient curiosity?
The desire for information is rooted, of course, in the connection that fans feel to Rachel Alexandra, in their affection for her. But being a fan doesn’t mean that her connections need to accommodate our desire to know what we want to know, when we want to know it. I was surprised by the criticism heaped on Stonestreet, especially after they did what people wanted and made a statement.
I’m a fan of the New York Rangers, and that fandom has meant, over four decades, the investment of uncountable hours, tens of thousands of dollars, and almost limitless emotion. None of the owners of the team has ever felt the slightest obligation to answer my questions, to treat me well, or to give me access to players’ personal lives, and I’m sure that I’d get laughed at if I suggested that it should be otherwise. My fandom and my investment entitle me to nothing.
Five and a half years ago, when Barbaro was injured, the public was given, for better or worse, an unprecedented look into the “personal life” of a race horse. Updates were provided by New Bolton; photos were released; news conferences scheduled. The fan frenzy around Barbaro’s injury grew steadily, and the phrase “feed the beast” seems an apt one. Whatever information was put out, it never seemed to be quite enough, and it created, I think, a sense that fans are entitled to information about the horses they love.
Yesterday, when Stonestreet did as fans wanted and announced that Rachel Alexandra and the colt were at Rood and Riddle, neither the rumors nor the criticism stopped. Skepticism abounded about the reasons given for the hospitalization; rumors about the “real reason” floated through the evening, and the farm was disparaged for the delay and for the paucity of information that was put out.
The voice of the fan is stronger than ever in racing, thanks to all the media platforms devoted to the sport: fans, farms, trainers, and racing executives can interact with each other in unprecedented ways. The strength of that voice incurs a responsibility, one that seemed absent yesterday in the demand for information and in the condemnation of people who are acting in the best interests of their horses.
Racing needs a lot of things, and those involved in the sport are rightly questioned daily by media and by fans. But do we really want to assail one of the brightest spots in the game over the last few years? We’re not talking about anything nefarious here. This isn’t Life At Ten, this isn’t Richard Dutrow, this isn’t financial malfeasance. This is a farm taking care of one of the most famous race horses in memory, taking good care of her and of her foal. Do we really want to attack them?