Hockey and horse racing

Just in from a very disheartening overtime loss to the hated Devils. It was my first ever overtime playoff game, and the only good news is that at least I didn’t have to wait several hours to see my team lose.

At the Garden shortly before the puck drop at the first home playoff game of the year, I stood, one of 18,200 there to cheer on the home team. (And you’re going to have to give me some artistic license here; there were a few Devils’ fans there, but not enough to matter.) As a fan of two marginalized sports, I’m used to caring about things that most people don’t, but at the Garden, everyone around me wanted the same thing. Their unity was evident in their garb, the ubiquitous blue jersey, and their behavior, the waving of the distributed white rally towel (a disappointing and recently adopted behavior—I thought New Yorkers were above such things. Yes, yes, bring on the superior New Yorker comments….).

It’s not like being at the track, where diversity, not unity, is encouraged and prized. At the track, the name of the game, right, is differing opinions and competition? I’m there to take your money. The more you bet on one horse, the more I stand to win on another. As my horse takes the lead in the stretch, you curse; when yours nips mine at the wire, I tear up my tickets while you cash yours. At the track, we have dozens of horses and jockeys from whom we choose to support; at the Garden, we are there for one team, and one team only. It’s about camaraderie, not competition.

The rhythm of the racing day ebbs and flows; moments of intensity in the stretch are followed by periods of relative inactivity. Even during the race, as we intently watch the horses move around the track, we really only get excited for the last few seconds. Sunday night, we were absorbed from the moment the puck was dropped. I was surrounded by friends and people I know well, and we barely spoke to each other for three hours, so attentive were we to what was happening on the ice. Yes, there were stoppages in play, but only for a few seconds, or at the most a minute or two—time to run frantically to the bathroom or the beer line, trying to get back before play resumed. If you took your eyes off the ice for a moment, you risked missing something—a penalty, a hit, a goal.

At the racetrack, no one cheers when someone gets hurt. Even if your horse wins, race fans are appropriately sober when a horse is pulled up or breaks down, or when a jockey is thrown. Sunday night, when Devils goalie Martin Brodeur went to the ice after another player ran into him, the Garden faithful taunted, “Maaaar-ty, Maaaar-ty,” as he lay on the ice, holding his head, until he got back up and play resumed.

At the end of a day at the races, you’ve got winners and losers. You congratulate your friends while counting your losses, and you’ve got at least nine chances a day to be a winner. There’s only one outcome at the Garden, especially during the playoffs, and we exult when we win, agonize when we don’t.

And on nights like tonight, or the day when you go 0 for 9, it’s a long, quiet walk out…walking down the stairs at the Garden, barely any of us talked, aside from a few comments about the refs, or the defense. It was eerily silent.

And on nights like tonight, or the day you go for 0 for 9, there’s only one way to begin to get over it: start to think about the next chance to win…Game 4, Wednesday night. Let’s go, Rangers!

14 thoughts on “Hockey and horse racing

  1. Go Red Shirts!!! I was there friday night and henrik’s save above his left pad (about 1 min to go) was the sickest save I’ve ever seen. Knew the game was finally over then. I wouldn’t worry too much about the 7 games, Devils don’t have the fire power.

  2. “At the track, the name of the game, right, is differing opinions and competition?”I’m in two categories, the above and the category called Horse Racing as Sport. I absorbed from my mentor, Brad Thomas, the TV commentator/handicapper/analyst for the New Jersey thoroughbred tracks, that horse racing is a sport like college basketball or boxing or hockey—horses are athletes with personalities and eccentricities. Sugar Ray Leonard was my childhood hero. I rooted for him loud and proud. Same with the Mets (baseball would later lose me—another story). When I love a horse, I couldn’t care less how much money I’m about to win or lose, or how well my “opponent” will fare: I bet on Colonel John and Monba in Pool 1 and stand to make a lot of moolah if either wins. I hope each gets a perfect tail view of the 3-year-old who so has turned me on with three equally sensational efforts, Big Brown. (I have a couple concerns about him—another time.) There are others like me, horseshirts, but, for the most part, you’re right. Harvey Pack used to tell the story of the guy leaving the track after the greatest race of all time, Affirmed-Alydar’s Belmont, complaining, “Damn, I had the three horse.” Alydar.

  3. You mentioned the “distributed white rally towel (a disappointing and recently adopted behavior…”In fairness, there’s specific hockey and Ranger-related antecedent to the rally towel. Namely, Roger Neilson, when coaching the ’82 Canucks, attached a white towel to a stick to wave the white flag of surrender b/c he thought the refs were jobbing his team — the genesis of the white rally towel. Of course, Neilson later coached a million teams, including the Rangers, to the ’92 President’s Trophy.

  4. Ernie, You reminded me of one of my favorite old boxing stories. The wild welterweight of the ’40s, Fritzie Zivic, had just gotten back from a fight in Mexico. The reporters crowded around him at the gym and asked how he did. Vaudeville still wasn’t a couple generations removed yet, and people still knew what to do with a good setup. “I run second,” Zivic said. ……. As for hockey vs. racing — I rarely find a moment of inactivity at the track. My mind is whirring like a crazy contraption at that place. Sure, you can sit back and sip cocktails, chat and read the form, but you’re better off looking at horses, watching people’s gestures, soaking up color and trying to figure things out. By the way, the greatest track in America opens for business Thursday. Just sayin’. — J.S.p.s. — Frank has an interesting story about the rally towel, which I don’t buy but like. I think I’m more in line with Teresa on this one. Aren’t New Yorkers above towels and monkeys and clickety-clackety noisemakers and cowbells and all the other junk cut-rate cities bring to their playoffs? It’s enough to make you a Knicks fan (because they don’t go to the playoffs). Thank God, racetracks don’t blast crummy pop hits over the P.A. between races. Reason No. 200 why racing is better. I hate big-time sports and all its attendant noise — including commercials, which you shouldn’t be subjected to at those ticket prices ($3 bucks to get into the track, by the way). Things started going downhill when Jane Jarvis got the axe, and if you don’t remember her, you get a New York demerit.

  5. Being a sabres season tix holder, i am sooo missing the playoffs this year, especially having to watch drury and briere (philly) still playing. In a classic “if you can’t beat em…” your boys picked up one classy guy in Chris Drury. He will be the difference by series end, mark my words.

  6. Patrick: Just when I thought we were going to be friends, I find out you’re a Devils’ fan. I wish I had as much confidence in my team as you do; 3-0 would have been so much better than 2-1.Frank: The late, great Roger Neilson, of the never-ending fabulous ties, and first to worst to first early 90’s Rangers. RIP Roger. Geno: I keep waiting for Chris “Mr. Clutch” Drury to get us a win, but he’s been sort of invisible. I’m sorry that you’re not in the playoffs, but when can we expect this guy to step up?Ernie and JS: I need more sleep to respond to your comments. Anon…

  7. I feel for you. Went to Chelsea-Wigan last night. Wigan levelled deep into injury time.Our chances of the Premier League have gone up in smoke but I needed the night/shared experience with others mainly so we could let off steam. My season ticket is in the part of the stadium where all the retired thugs sit!Only NHL game i’ve been to was the Ducks/Kings in London this season-so that was a bit different from the norm-but my MLB/NFL and recent LA Lakers experience left me feeling underwhelmed. Is “Let’s Go Lakers”-the only chant they have.The fans need to come to Britain to be trained in the art of offensive chant writing and singing!

  8. Here in Detroit, we don’t tend to think of Hockey as a marginalized sport. However, I have noticed a significant downturn in fervor even in Hockeytown since the strike. Just wondering if you, as a devoted hockey fan, had noticed anything similar?

  9. Ernie: I don’t dispute that the game can be about the horse–it’s just that “the horse” can be different for everyone there, unlike in an arena, where the majority of the crowd is there for on team–there’s a unity in the object of support. Geno: Around here, you get barred for that sort of thing. How could you? Jeremy: come to the Garden. While the “Potvin sucks” chant is falling out of favor, as did “Beat your wife, Potvin, beat your wife,” newly-minted songs such as “Who’s your wife, Marty, who’se your wife?”, commemorating Brodeur’s wise decision to sleep with his wife’s sister, currently reigns supreme. JS: There are at least twenty-five other blogs on the TBA homepage…probably only Left at the Gate even mentions hockey…

  10. Oops, forgot Becky. I refuse to call it a strike: the players didn’t walk out, the owners locked them out, and I place the blame for the stoppage squarely on the shoulders of greedy and inept management. Nashville’s not making a profit? Really? There’s a shocker. That’s not a payroll problem, that’s a demo problem. Anyway: because the Rangers came back and made the playoffs for the first time in a decade, interest returned fairly quickly and has increased year on year, to the point that for this season there was barely a ticket available all year. I’m fortunate the NY Post and Daily News, as well as local news stations, provide pretty good coverage.In general, though, in the post-lockout era, hockey barely exists.

  11. J/K…you are the ones in the playoffs (and i’m sitting home with playoff credit until next yr) plus i’m rooting for you…just showing you what he’s capable of!! good luck!!! ps..did you see the pom-poms…yeah that is lame…go rangers.

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