By Mark Coomes
No entertainment biz cycles through stars faster than horse racing. Brown bananas have a longer shelf life.
Take I’ll Have Another—please. Last week, immortal. This week, irrelevant.
Some wag even voted Union Rags No. 1 in the sport’s new ranking of 3-year-old colts.
This is the same horse whose Belmont win was timed with a sundial. NBC had to scrap the slo-mo replay because it looked like a slideshow.
Of Matthew Brady daguerreotypes.
A healthy I’ll Have Another could’ve run faster with Rosie O’Donnell aboard. But people have short memories. The Preakness is so 3 1/2 weeks ago.
So horse racing is back to square one, with no Triple Crown winner to hold the attention of casual fans. Same as it ever was.
Hardcore fans, well, we get what we deserve. We are Sports Nation’s version of the teaser pony, that unfortunate beast whose sole job is to get mares in the mood for a conjugal visit.
That’s horse racing, all right. It arouses the appetite but never, ever beds it down.
The unofficial purpose of the Triple Crown is to identify the best colt of his generation. Mission accomplished. Except I’ll Have Another will never have another race.
The torch has been passed to vanquished rivals. It’s like watching Kentucky beat Louisville in the Final Four and tuning in Monday night for the championship game of the NIT.
Such is the perversity of our nation’s oldest sport. The one where horses win more money from slot machines than the slack-jawed drones who pull the handles. If that’s not Peter robbing Paul, I don’t know what is.
Except in Kentucky, where Paul is against the law and Peter is moving to New York and West Virginia before he starves to death.
Do we know how to take care of our own or what?
The horse industry returns the favor by breeding animals so genetically un-diverse that their DNA hums “Dueling Banjos.” Their legs break, their lungs bleed and they pale at the thought of running three times in five weeks. In the 1930s and ’40s, horses raced between stops on the Triple Crown trail.
A handful of the critters somehow make it to the racetrack anyway. But if they are good enough to make a Derby or Breeders’ Cup, you’ll have to sell a kidney on the black market to cover the cost of a box seat and a beer.
Unlike casinos, racetracks charge admission for the privilege of losing money therein. There are no comps. There are no free drinks.
There is no mercy. The track and state pocket 19 cents of every dollar bet at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. If your bet pays 300-1 or better (which isn’t uncommon with exactas, trifectas and such), the Feds will confiscate another 28 percent.
What a deal.
Racing fans and the racing industry are locked in a dysfunctional affair. They make Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor look like Ozzie and Harriet. (I’d have used more current examples, but most racing fans grew up with Wallis Simpson, not Bart Simpson.)
We deserve each other. The fans especially. We know the Triple Crown is a tryst consummated by coitus interruptus. But like that poor, dumb pony, we let ‘em lead us back to bed nonetheless.
Every June, we swear it off. But nine months later, we belly up and shout, “I’ll have another!”
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.