“In betting on races, however, there are two elements that are never lacking: hope against hope and an incomplete recollection of the lessons of the past.” -E. V. Lucas, Visibility Good
Note: For a little perspective, see my post on the Belmont Stakes from a year ago, “Belmont 2008.” Original titles, I know.
I didn’t work the Preakness Stakes in 2006, but I watched it on television. The previous three years had seen highly promising horses win two of the three legs of the Triple Crown, and we watched Funny Cide, Afleet Alex, and Smarty Jones slip from the public’s favor the second they were nosed out of a sweep. In 2006, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro seemed to be getting as much hype as these three hopefuls combined. NBC devoted most of their pre-Preakness coverage to the horse, following him from the stable to the paddock to the post. I still remember that moment, a few furlongs into the race, when everyone realized that something had gone wrong. Barbaro twisted and stuttered—Edgar Prado was quickly and skillfully pulling him up—and he half limped, half sprinted to the side as the cameramen grudgingly tracked the rest of the race. Bernadini won easily, and everyone turned back to Barbaro, surrounded by trainers and doctors, looking so much smaller without his saddle as he gingerly raised the right hind leg on which he could no longer stand. I’ve watched it again recently, and it’s still heartbreaking. The bigger story is a compelling one—the long, costly battle to repair and rehabilitate Barbaro after an injury that is normally met with swift euthanasia, his eventual death and the resulting scrutiny into unsafe breeding and racing conditions—but that moment on the track remains one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Continue reading