There might be a lot of rationalization in this post.
Last Saturday, I was standing at the paddock with a friend just before the second race went off. I’d gotten to Aqueduct late, and thus didn’t know that Bruce Levine’s Big Love Bill had broken down in the first race until my friend told me, sad, angry, frustrated at the loss of another horse. Sharing his feelings, I said, “It takes a lot of denial to be a fan of this game.” “Or a lot of ignorance,” he rejoined.
We’re not ignorant, unfortunately; we know that every time we watch a race, the possibility of disaster, however remote, looms, and we hope, as the gate opens, that they’ll all come home safely, every time. Infrequently, but too often, they don’t.
And as we turn our heads, literally, from the scene, we figuratively turn our hearts. We despair; we mourn; we imagine the connections. And most of the time, somehow, we watch the next race, uneasily, wondering what it says about us that we can so quickly watch the horses run again, after what has just transpired.
I spoke late Saturday afternoon with a friend who watched a replay of a horse breaking down, the horse’s jockey standing next to her. He watched, then went to ride the next race.
Driving to Saratoga last week, I heard story after story of the massacre in Mumbai; over the last two days, I’ve heard about the worker trampled to death by a crowd of people desperate to save some money on Christmas presents; a week ago, I listened to a story on National Public Radio about a turkey slaughterhouse. Curiosity, shock, disbelief, disgust…and we turn the station, or turn the page.
At the risk of sounding hopelessly maudlin and dramatic, life is full of the unbearable and the unspeakable, of images and events that make us shudder, but that we somehow find a way to put aside, or accept as accidents, or try to explain.
Earlier this fall, 19-year-old Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov collapsed during a game and died on the bench; in 1995, Boston University freshman Travis Roy, playing in his first college hockey game, went into the board eleven seconds into his first shift, and was paralyzed from the neck down.
I didn’t stop watching hockey after these events, and I won’t stop watching racing now, as distressing and painful as yesterday’s breakdowns were. The horses and the jockeys do come home safely, nearly all of the time, and days like yesterday are blessedly rare. So on we go, with a little bit of denial, and a lot of hope, fueling us.