I'm going to try and keep this short and sweet... ah, who the hell am I kidding; sit back and relax - we're going to be here for a while. (Kudos for those of you that caught the Eddie Vedder reference in that.)
I was up at my local bar tonight doing my first and second pass through the Breeders' Cup PPs. It's pretty much a routine for me at this point: Pull the PPs, take a first pass highlighting and underlining key data that I like to focus on. Take a second pass and make notes on things I want to research further. Take a third pass and watch replays or do chart review. And then make some decisions on top choices, value plays, etc.
The first two passes almost always occur while I'm out of the house since time is of the essence; I need to squeeze in my early handicapping stages whenever I can.
So, tonight I'm at my bar with my highlighters, red and blue pens, and a stack of PPs. It's Breeders' Cup week and we're getting down to the serious business of allocating the final big bankroll of the year with the hopes of cashing a nice score to close out 2013. And as I'm sitting at the bar I'm reminded how much I love big race days, not simply for big betting but because of big horses.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a degenerate gambler; you get me out at the track and I'm firing bets off in all directions all day long. The action is fantastic and the rush when the horse you pick is rolling down the stretch out in front... it's like nothing else in the world. But, you know what, that's not why I love horse racing. For me, it goes just a bit deeper.
Despite the cynical nature of a large segment of today's sports commentators (including some on this very network), I firmly believe that the sport of horse racing is fantastic and a truly unique spectacle in today's American sporting world. Yeah, I know, there's the lazy sports fan that thinks horse racing is simply a bunch of crooked gamblers yelling at jockeys, along with clueless women talking about "beautiful horses"; but those are truly the lazy observers. (And to be fair, our sport isn't "only" about yelling at jockeys, it just seems that way.)
The desire to breed the perfect horse is a centuries long endeavor within our sport. Ask any breeder, trainer, owner or jockey what their ultimate goal is and invariably they'll say that they want that one superstar horse. That one Secretariat. That one Man o'War. That one Citation.
Perhaps the best thing about our sport of horse racing is that greatness doesn't come around but once in a blue moon. Some will claim that fact is a downfall of our game, that a Triple Crown winner will somehow cure all that ails us. I say "nonsense". The thing that will cure what ails us is a general sports fan and population enjoying the sport on its most basic level and not "only" when the best of the best are finally present. Gimmicks and fleeting glory are just that - fleeting.
I follow the sport because I love to watch these high-class, highly-bred animals run at their very best. Humans have been breeding thoroughbreds for over three hundred years in an attempt to discover the perfect blend of speed and stamina that will set one horse apart from all of his peers. And every once in a while we see greatness. Not often, but once in a while.
So, Joe Sportsfan, go ahead and make fun of our sport. Talk about the so-called lack of intelligence of the animals or deride those that appreciate the beauty of the equine athlete. Marginalize the sport to whatever gives you comfort. Personally, I'll be watching every second of this year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park because I know I'm watching the best of the best compete at the highest level. I know that there's a chance, just a chance, that I'll see something extraordinary and unexpected.
At the end of the day, there is not another sport in the world that causes a shiver down my spine that can match what I felt at Newmarket in May of 2011 when Frankel destroyed the field in the English 2,000 Guineas. No other sport can capture the power of the grandstand attempting to will Zenyatta past Blame at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup Classic. No other sport can match the unleashed anticipation of Sunday Silence versus Easy Goer at Gulfstream Park in 1989. No other sport can give us the heartbreak of Spectacular Bid, Smarty Jones, Silver Charm and all the others that failed at the most difficult accomplishment in sports (whether by humans or animals).
Every time I watch a horse race, I have the possibility of witnessing unknown greatness; a greatness that is unbeknownst to the trainer or the jockey or the owner. And when you're fortunate enough to witness a truly exceptional performance - for me - it makes everything worthwhile.
As we head into the final major weekend of the 2013 horse racing season I'm filled with my typical sense of optimism (cause I gotta pick at least one winner, right?), but also a sense of pride.
I'm a horse racing fan through and through. And while the rest of the country may consider my favorite sport a "niche" or "insignificant", I know there is nothing insignificant when these wonderful animals - animals that are bred to run for us - perform at their highest level.
Happy 2013 Breeders' Cup and... good luck!