Not again

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.

On the way to the track for the Jockey Club Gold Cup, October 2008

7 thoughts on “Not again

  1. Many years ago I visited Lane’s End farm and watched them turn out Summer Squall in a large paddock. Let loose, the horse ran like a maniac around the pasture and I feared for his safty.Thoroughbreds run, it’s what they love to do.

  2. I spent most of the day in front of TVG watching all of the races. It was a long uncomfortable day with the breakdowns at Aqu, one at Turf Paradise ( I believe?), and the scary incident in the 2nd race at Hollywood (Martin Garcia dumped on to the rail coming down the stretch).I’ve never really questioned the surfaces, choosing to take in the opinions from both sides, but after yesterday I’m left wondering, maybe synthetics really are safer?The incident at Hollywood was unrelated to the surface, but I can’t remember the last time a saw a breakdown there or at Del Mar, the 2 California tracks I followed this year. I know it’s a dangerous sport, and I know there are injuries everyday racing or working out. But suddenly I find myself leaning towards the synthetics… what am I missing other than the tradition of running on dirt?

  3. It’s very sad, and I can never watch a race without my heart in my throat. But we do watch, because thoroughbreds love to run and we love to watch them do it. There is nothing like seeing them, mane and tail streaming, dueling it out down the stretch.RIP Wanderin Boy. May you run free in the pastures of heaven.

  4. Thanks, folks, for weighing in. LJK: sitting at Saratoga Harness yesterday afternoon, a friend noted the number of horses she’s known who have broken legs in their paddocks, for any number of reasons.Jamie: I’m not a believer that synthetic surfaces are the answer. I’ve followed their development in this country pretty closely and written a number of posts on the topic; skim them and let me know what you think. And welcome to Brooklyn Backstretch!Linda and Ernie: you said it better than I ever could.

  5. I am sad and mad too, about Wanderin Boy. This stable should have used better judgment in selecting races for this game horse. Surely there were some softer spots for him. Trying to get blood from a stone never works. How this fellow lasted as long as he did is such a tribute to his courage. Shame on his connections. They won’t get another like him again.

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