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Domesticated, Not Demasculinized

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Barbaro’s Breakdown was a Rorschach test for humanity

Posted by doatmon on June 16, 2006

Some of you reading this blog (who am I kidding NONE of you are reading this blog) will undoubtedly get tired of my horse racing posts. I will try to keep them to a minimum and will promise to include stories of drunken debauchery, girls gone wild moments (even if fabricated) and embarrassing stories which would make faithful Cosmo readers (Hello? Anyone?) blush.

That said, I have to write about what happened in the Preakness on Saturday, even if only for my own cathartic process. I was unable to watch the Preakness live. I was still in the midst of a golf scramble which saw members of my group pop a golf cart tire, bend a rim, dent a golf cart, hit an ATV that was a hole-in-one prize and send those on the practice putting green scurrying for cover with an errant iron shot. Needless to say, the round took us well past the 6:19 post time of the Preakness.

In a panic, I called my brother and he agreed to put his phone up to the TV so I could hear the call of the race. As much fun as watching a horse race can be, there are few things that illict more goosebumps than listening to a race call (and even fewer that dont involve a lot of $1 bills, platform shoes and really cheap perfume that inexplicably doesnt wash off). So I was nestled down into my dented golf cart and ready for the race. It was not a good omen when Barbaro broke through the gateits a well-known bit of bad karma within racing circles. I had no idea the validity however until 100 yards into the race.

When the race finally started, the combination of my location in the cell phone tower-deprived boondocks of Springfield, Ohio and my brothers ailing cell phone, I could only hear short, staccato bursts of the call. One thing I did hear clearly however, was Edgar Prado is pulling Barbaro up, Barbaro is out of the race. At the time, I thought it might have been residual from breaking through the gate, I didnt know the severity. I rushed back to the clubhouse as quickly as the governor-controled cart would take me and got there just in time to see the replay.

The visual of Prado grabbing those reins as hard as his minute body would allow, Barbaros right hind wheeling about and the look on the faces of the Matz family when they realized what was happeningabsolutely heart-wrenching. I feared I knew what was going to happen next. As an avid race-goer, I have seen this play out far too often. Luckily, they were able to put Barbaro in the horse ambulance and get him medical attention to attempt to save his life. Regardless, his brilliant racing career was over.

My friend asked me the net day when I talked about Barbaro being out of surgery, he said, You sound like you own the horse, whats the big deal? I realized something right there. I felt like I did own the horse. Its no different than how Yankees fans must have felt when Lou Gehrig made his Luckiest Man Alive speech or how Celtics fans felt when they heard Len Bias had passed away. As sports fans, we feel connected to our teams, to our athletes and inexplicably, we say we when referring to them. We need a basket here or we really need to stop drafting guys who breed pit bulls for race fans, its no different with horses.

When you buy a ticket on a horse, or even if you dont, you feel connected to those athletes. I defy anyone who watched the post race ceremonies at the Kentucky Derby, to say they didnt feel like they were celebrating with the Matz and Jackson families. Their celebration is laid bare before us, their sentimental moments including the winning photo are taken before our eyes. We are a part of it. We are a part of their successes and their devastating misfortunes.

I was at the Little Brown Jug in Ohio last year when one of the horses collapsed minutes after the race and died on the track of a heart condition. I stood there, hand on mouth, unable to move or speak as I watched the groom and the trainer of the horse try to restart his heartultimately unsuccessfully. It never gets an easier because each time you feel invested.

I believe ESPN and ABC have a movie coming out on the phenomenal filly, Ruffian. She was a force of nature racing in the mid-70s before she suffered fatal injuries in a match race at Belmont Park. She is buried in the infield. For those of you who dont grasp what Im saying, please watch the movie. The feeling you walk away with is how I felt this weekend. Minus Hollywood actors, minus millions of takes to get the perfect suspense, every horse race is a fantastic production with world-class athletes doing something they love to do. And horse racing fans are invested in every one.

Get well, Barbaro.

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