By Mark Coomes
Horse racing is a benighted and feudal sport.
Lords and serfs alike are notoriously superstitious. They believe in “racing gods” who prevent undesirable people and unworthy animals from annexing the game’s most august prizes.
The existence of this snobby tribunal is rightly doubted here in the Age of Reason. But circumstantial evidence continues to pile up. The latest came to light today on Long Island, where an inflamed tendon forced odds-on favorite I’ll Have Another to withdraw from tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes.
Having already won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, I’ll Have Another would have entered the pantheon of immortal quadrupeds by winning the Belmont and sweeping the Triple Crown for the first time in 34 years.
Instead, at a press conference this afternoon, the lithe little chestnut was retired to stud.
The gods must be crazy, most everyone exclaimed.
I’ll Have Another’s abrupt departure is a crippling loss across the board. No huge ratings for NBC. No huge crowd for the embattled New York Racing Association. No Holy Grail for the sport’s purblind Pollyannas, who believe that a Triple Crown winner would restore horse racing to its rightful place on America’s front pages.
But purists who remember Seattle Slew and Secretariat and maybe even old Citation are sighing with relief today. Thank the gods, they say. In their view, I’ll Have Another and his human enablers weren’t worthy to join the ranks of equine royalty. The horse is too slow, the trainer is a cheat and the owner is a loan shark. Or so the story goes.
But the real story is this: The racing gods do indeed exist, and they are a rancorous bunch, like the backstabbers on Mt. Olympus back in Homer’s day.
The Triple Crown gods are malevolent — and they hate hubris, of course.
So when Buddy Delp called Spectacular Bid “the best horse ever to look through a bridle,” the gods said, “We’ll show you.”
On the morning of the 1979 Belmont Stakes, the Bid’s coronation day, he stepped on a safety pin his stall. The Bid could fly like Pegasus, so for good measure, the gods compelled his pimpled teenage jockey to give Bid one of the dumbest rides in racing history.
One problem: Ol’ Zeus was a big Bid fan, and he was off fornicating with earthchicks the day his cohorts voted to gyp Bid out of the Belmont. After Bid gallumphed home in third, Zeus saith, “Now I’ll show you. No horse shall ever again win the Triple Crown … unless he’s as good as Spectacular Bid.”
And here we are, 34 years later. It might be another 340 before the curse is lifted.
About Mark Coomes: Contributing blogger Mark Coomes covered sports from 1988 to 2000 for The Courier-Journal, USA Today, Florida Today and The Monroe News Star.