2008’s Kentucky Derby disgusted us all. Its Preakness flew by like a blur. Finally, against the prevailing “wisdom” of racing’s spinners, this year’s Belmont gave proof to the sport’s lack of soundness. The "cripple crown" played itself out, culminating in the whimper its detractors uncomfortably anticipated.
With over-hyped one-liners promising glory as hasn’t been seen since a star lit up the Bethlehem night, Big Brown’s “inevitable” storming of the Crown careened to a halt in the split second it took his jockey to give up the fight when he found his horse just wasn’t there.
Brilliantly played by the jockey prince. Too bad the cavalcade of frogs behind this amazing horse can’t be persuaded to skulk back into the slime they came from after their very public comeuppance. Too bad the horse has to shoulder the ignominy they thrust upon him.
The yearling training sessions. The months of steroid shots. The hoof patched with silly putty.
Only a renegade owner promising the sport an influx of hedge fund cash. Only an investment trained by arguably the dastardliest figure in thoroughbred training. Then there’s the industry that’s lost its way by adopting precocious speed as the only metric for success—not to mention the veterinary establishment (Dr. Bramlage, et al) that's misplaced its responsibility to the animals it pledges to serve.
Only this team of racing’s finest could conjure up such a perfect storm of disgrace.
All week I shuddered to read of Big Brown’s industry-saving status as de-facto Triple Crown winner. My rejection of this designation and the fear that his win could mean the propagation of his industry’s ills even led me to (childishly) spurn the “Go Big Brown !” button the UPS carrier handed me in good faith.
But it’s not Big Brown’s fault that thoroughbred racing’s in so foul a state—financially and ethically. It’s not his fault he couldn’t finish first. A win was no more his responsibility than saving the industry others sacrificed his health for.
To pin the survival of an industry on a horse is no more reasonable than laying down four bucks to win just one come race day. The industry needs to stop relying on its horses’ lives and more on its own ability to resurrect itself.
In fact, it’s my view that the long-term fitness of thoroughbred racing’s current top athletes is a perfect metaphor for the industry’s decline. Short-term thinking will only get you equally as far.
To be sure, this year’s blighted Triple Crown attempt will go down in history. I only hope the horse doesn’t go down with it.