Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Sport of Kings!

Oh the fairgrounds were crowded, and Stewball was there

But the betting was heavy on the bay and the mare

As they were approaching, about half way around

The gray mare she stumbled and fell to the ground

And away out yonder, ahead of them all

Came a-prancing and a-dancing, my noble Stewball

~lyrics to Stewball

In the 70's, my wife and I accompanied my brother to the race track. He had a great love for 'playing the ponies'. It was a love I didn't particularly share, but to enjoy some quality time with my brother in an activity he dearly loved, we went along. It was a beautiful afternoon.

In the seventh race at Hollywood Park that day, I placed a $2.00-to-win bet on a 12-1 beauty named Baghdad lady. And as they rounded the last turn into the home stretch, there she was, comfortably out front leading the pack. The excitement of the announcer's voice grew as the horses approached the finish line, but then a strange thing happened. "Baghdad Lady"--leader of the field--never got another call. Nary a mention. How could that be for one who was so in command of that race?

The reason soon became obvious to all of us. As the horses crossed the finish line, as we glanced down to the home stretch in front of our grandstand, wondering what had become of our bet, we saw her. There, with leg in pieces and dangling was the most horrific sight. Baghdad Lady had suffered a thoroughbred's worst fear. She had "broken down" as they say.

That was the last time my wife and I attended the horse races. And that was the day beautiful Baghdad Lady, a strong and vibrant creature, bred for speed atop the spindliest of legs, died. We learned this in a brief mention in the following day's Sports Page.

Magnificent creatures behind white fences stretching for miles around green pastures. It's a beautiful image for what is just another industry. My apologies if I offend anyone who is a fan of this "sport" but my sensibilities for these magnificent beasts bred to serve our amusements, is too weak to withstand what the "Sport of Kings" demands.

And so yesterday's Preakness made a fine stallion, Kentucky Derby winner and favorite to win again, my latest Baghdad Lady. Oh, Barbaro's not dead yet, but his outlook is very grim. We didn't watch the race, but I did read what happened in its aftermath. And I couldn't help but feel outrage at the reactions of the stunned crowd or the industry they support.

As an AP story said, "there wasn't much enthusiasm for the finish, especially with many of the fans in tears." Such is the nature of this sport of these 'kings'. I can't help but wonder if the outcome of yesterday's race made any fans into anti-racing advocates like my wife and I?


Anonymous said...

Now dada, I'm sure your post is a metaphor (how could it not be with a horse named Baghdad Lady who breaks down, can't finish & then dies), but damn if I can think it through in light of latest your Pony update/comment! I'm just so glad she's resting comfortably & that there is indeed another Rx to try. These beautiful companions' ability to inspire never cease to overwhelm me. I'm visualizing her softly, tentatively reacquainting herself with her human pack's bounty of love & care.

ps, The only horserace I was ever drug to (down in TJ) was a very unpleasant experience (due to my perception of equine abuse), but at least I didn't have to witness a horrific "accident" such as you describe. "Sport of Kings" indeed! IMO, a monarch's contact with life should be limited to their medievel practice of curing scrofula by "touching" their subject's skin afflictions. About the only useful service they ever performed, it was known as "the King's evil". D.K.

some_maineiac said...

dada, this post reminded me immediately of HST's breakthrough piece of gonzo journalism..."The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" gives a fine insight into the mindset of the "kings" who enjoy this "sport"...

Anonymous said...

maineiac, you probably have a link to some HST excerpts from Kentucky Derby? I remember reading some critic flapping about it, but never actually read it myself.

Do you agree there is no BAD HST writing, that even at his most uninspired, he still roared like a flame-thrower compared to other great american authors?

I just picked up, but haven't read yet, The Rum Diary which seems to be early HST's acct of San Juan PR written in back in 1959 when he was 22-yrs old. I haven't been able to actually read it yet because I can't get past the dedication page opening quote :

"My rider of the bright eyes,
What happened to you yesterday?
I thought you in my heart,
When I bought you your fine clothes,
A man the world could not slay."
--Dark Eileen O'Connell, 1773

Things like that keep me pondering for days. D.K.

dada said...

DK: I originally planned this as a result of what Pony's going thru; of how--after the first day or so on valium--she seemed able to rest very well, but how in seemed to lose its *magic* for her over the weekend, causing me to question how much Po's willing to endure to serve our vanities.

From there it was to be a simple leap to the greyhound industry. While we've supported the local rescue group by "saving" three of their retired greys, they still see no problem with their annual trek to the track and seeming support for continuing the pipeline of oft broke down dogs to loving homes vs. plugging the NEED for finding homes for these industry dogs by putting a halt to this sport.

And then a beautiful stallion 'broke down' in the Preakness Saturday. "Damn! Another year without a Triple Crowner" many lamented. Bastards.

So, the greyhounds took a backseat to Barbaro and the equine thoroughbreds.

And yes, her real name that day 30+ years ago was Baghdad Lady. And as you pointed out, an apt metaphor she is for today's broken Baghdad Lady.

Anonymous said...

dada, these are truly the lonliest times between human & canine, aren't they? You want to do what's best, but not sure what that is. It's unique, never to be repeated in exactly the same way twice. Different or increased dosage Rx's aside (and I continue to hope they can provide some relief), Pony's comfort is your overriding concern & that concern will guide your strength, of that there can be no doubt. D.K.


maineiac, I found the HST Derby piece online & recognized that I had indeed read it years ago. I think it was included in Generation of Swine essays? It was truly worthwhile, especially since the Derby was where he originally met Steadman! Thanks so much for reminding me about it. I'll be savoring it tonight, maybe with the obligatory small shot of KY bourbon. D.K.

some_maineiac said...

good for your on-line sleuthing, DK!...yes the piece was reprinted in "Generation of Swine" and the original, unsold manuscript of "The Rum Diary" (or an excerpt thereof) was printed in...let me see,, wait! both are in "Songs of the Doomed" as well as another 50's semi-autobiographical piece called "Prince Jellyfish"...

so make a toast to that dear, departed sage, that "road man for the lords of karma" tonight, if you will...i'll pass on the alcohol (even though bourbon was an occasional favorite of mine) and raise my coffee mug or glass of juice intead...

dada, you draw an excellent parallel between the cruelties of horse racing and the cruelties of dog racing...perhaps the latter is too understandably painful for you to write about today...greyhounds are a handsome, noble, athletic and loving species of dog and the world is a better place for the existence of greyhound adoption agencies and the humans who avail themselves of this opportunity...and some factoid that says they were once the favored pets of ancient royalty is buzzing around in my brain...

dada said...

Maineiac: Thanks for crediting my meager attempt here reminding you of anything HST, especially his piece, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved".

Not being familiar with that, I located it, and DL'ed it into my e-book. I hate reading long stuff on the monitor. Anyway, I guess the e-book can't handle it. HST crashed my e-book.

That's sad because I'd gotten as far as him trashing the Texas good ol' boys good time with the Black Panthers news. (I was really lovin' it about then.) Then he was explaining how to use his briefcase to opens doors just before I crashed.

So, I'm gonna have to try to reload it from a different site--I hope. Too good not to finish. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

HST's description of the Derby: "Just pretend you're visiting a huge outdoor looney bin. If the inmates get out of control, we'll soak them down with Mace ... The whole place is jammed with people ... most of them staggering drunk. It's a fantastic scene--thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other & fighting with broken whiskey bottles ... thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By midafternoon they'll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands & vomiting on each other between races ... the aisles will be slick with vomit."

Without even mentioning the horse flesh, he took the glamour right out of the sport of kings, huh? Truly worth a toast of good KY bourbon. D.K.

dada said...

Thanks for sharing a little bit of that, DK. Maybe that's why these folks love the "Sport of Kings" so much. Whenever they go out to the track and act like that, maybe they feel connected to the proletariat, just across the tracks where dogs instead of thoroughbreds run round in circles for 'em?