A Run For The Money

     This Saturday a horse will run one and a half miles in New York. Big deal. It’s not the first time since 1978 that a race horse will enter the Belmont Stakes with a chance to win racing’s fabled Triple Crown.
     Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, seven horses arrived on Long Island with the chance to become semi-legends. Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and Charismatic (1999) all faltered.
     This year’s contender is Big Brown. Aside from being probably the most unimaginative name ever in the history of assigning names to, well, anything, Big Brown also has the distinction of going up against some pretty underwhelming competition. The most legitimate challenger this weekend will be a Japanese horse named Casino Drive, who didn’t even race in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes.
     Like a lot of sports fans, I want to like horse racing. I used to tell myself watching horse racing is fun, that it’s almost the height of sophistication in sport. That it truly is the Sport of Kings.
     But it’s hard to fake anymore. Even before Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles was euthanized on the track immediately following the race I had quit caring. I didn’t even watch the race this year. I can’t be something I’m not, and simply put I’m not a bettor.
     That’s all horse racing is. It’s a bet. If it was anything other than a bet racing odds would not be so prominently displayed. If it was something other than a bet, the announcers covering the race wouldn’t talk about how the odds have changed since the windows opened that morning.
     Pay attention to that. If you’re watching a football game, the announcers might mention that the home squad is a heavy favorite, or how one team is the underdog, but they’ll never mention how last night Team A was favored by seven and a half and at kickoff the spread was nine.
     Yet in horse racing, as the horses parade around the track to the gate, the announcers do nothing but talk about how the favorite has moved from 2-3 odds to 1-2, or how a dark horse (no pun intended) has come from nowhere to be considered a contender.
     Further proof horse racing is nothing more than a bet? How about the fact that nobody cares about horse racing after the first Saturday in June?
     If Big Brown wins on Saturday you can expect the sport’s supporters to crow about the arrival, finally, of a Triple Crown winner after 30 years of waiting. But by the end of the month his name will disappear entirely, to surface only when another horse makes a run at the Triple Crown.
     Horse racing will always have its die-hard supporters. Watching horses run against each other is exciting every now and then. Just don’t try and tell me it’s something greater or more important than it is.
     And what horse racing is, was and always will be, to the great majority of the sports world, is a bet.

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