With all this talk about the Democratic nominating process being a horserace, I’m reminded the first Saturday in May is a day in Kentucky to sip a Mint Julep and enjoy “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” I’ve never been to the Derby itself, but five years ago today, Kyle and I raced to Suffolk Downs in East Boston and met a friend for a day of live racing and a simulcast of the “run for the roses.” I have many other memories of Suffolk Downs with my Dad and also of a sunny breakfast, garnished with infield flamingos at the grand old Hialeah Park Race Track near Miami with him in ‘73. Sadly, Hialeah’s pastels have faded, and it’s been a graying, dusty cavern of emptiness since 2001.
All this returned to me yesterday while reading, “Why Doesn’t Anybody Go to the Horse Races?” in Slate. The article bemoans off-track and internet betting as the reason there are so few tracks left. I think the problem is deeper, and is another reflection of our declining interest in thinking. Think about it. (sorry) Handicapping a horse race takes some thought about lineage, performance history, rest, weight, jockey, trainer, and even an intuition about how a horse appears before a race. Sometimes the look and body language of a horse can reveal its desire to run. You don’t have to expend any mental energy trying to pick up those vibes from a machine. “Gimme a quick pick” is all it takes to stuff state coffers with lottery billions. You see the same phenomena in a casino where most hard dollars roll in by the coin and a one armed assist. We’re more willing than ever to gamble away our money. Just don’t ask us to think about it.
Yeah, the days of romance and horseracing are in the dust like the field chasing Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. For a dwindling few, happy memories remain.