It was supposed to be a pretty regular, perhaps rather non-descript day at the races. It was a freezing cold Saturday, the feature race was placed third on the card, and I had a ton of work to do. So: meet up with a friend or two early, watch the feature, buckle down. Eightyfiveinafifty would win or he wouldn’t; New York would have a Derby hopeful or we wouldn’t.
Not, as they say, so much.
Those of us watching the race on television at the track or from the rail knew only that Eightyfiveinafifty had bolted and was out of the race; even as we raced to the paddock, we had no idea that he’d dumped Jorge Chavez and taken on a couple of rails en route to the backstretch.
Information emerged, erratically and with few details: “Chavez is in the ambulance.” “The horse took off.” “Where is he?” “Nobody knows.” “How’s Chavez?” “We don’t know.”
In the meantime, there’s a winner’s circle photo to be taken, a winning trainer to be interviewed, a winning jockey to talk to. Poor Tim Kreiser and Peppi Knows: they win a stakes race in New York, and still, everybody wants to talk to somebody else.
“Where’s Gary?” “He went up the chute.”
Some writers head to the backstretch; others, like me, go upstairs. More details are coming, from those who watched the race with a view of the whole track. “He went through the rail.” “Which one?” “Both of them.” “And ran across the main track and disappeared.” “Disappeared? Where is he now?” “ We don’t know.”
I head to the computer, and instead of finding, as I expected, an internet full of agitated questions, I find instead a few concerned comments: “Eightyfiveinafifty was pulled up. I hope that’s he’s OK.” “Any word on Eightyfiveinafifty?” Nothing about Chavez, and I realize that those who watched from home had no idea of what had happened while the race was being run: even replays didn’t show it.
So the tweeting begins…and the medium is perfectly fitting the messages: small bits of information, quickly and widely disseminated. They get re-tweeted, and—amazingly, remarkably—a Real Journalist calls me—a Tweeter!–asking for my source for a piece of information and verifying its veracity before publicizing it herself.
And now, because we know that horse and rider are OK, we can relax. “Do you think it’s OK,” I ask no one in particular, “to say that Eightyfiveinafifty was apprehended on the backstretch?”
“How about ‘nabbed’?” someone suggests.
The immediacy of Twitter can carry with it a nearly irresistible urge to get online and share what you know; I’ve rarely been motivated by the prospect of a scoop, but the lure of being the first to post something can be awfully seductive. Just ask the folks at the Blood-Horse that announced Take the Points as the winner of Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Handicap before the race was made official.
Was the world—racing or otherwise—changed by the ability to Tweet information on Saturday? No. Would the racing/Tweeting public have suffered if it would have had to wait for the information to be conveyed via e-mail or press release? Hardly. But, armed with verifiable and up to date information, I found Twitter an incredibly useful medium for reporting on Saturday afternoon…as did Claire Novak, Andy Serling, and NYRA news, all of whom posted information about the story through the afternoon.
This is, I recognize, hardly big news: that Twitter is an effective way to get out information is as accepted as the inner track’s reputation for speed. It also, I think, emphasizes an even greater need for judiciousness and perhaps, paradoxically, patience, in the service of getting it right. The ability to go so fast might just mean that we in fact have to go more slowly. Just ask Eightyfiveinafifty.