Every year it takes me by surprise. Certain spring Saturday afternoons come along and suddenly an interest in horse racing takes hold and I want to watch those few minutes of a fast paced adrenaline rush.
I am in no way a horsey person. I don't dislike them. They are wonderful creatures, but I don't get all soft and dewy over a horse as I would over, say, a cat, or a duck, even. But, yesterday when I heard on the car radio the stunning news that I'll Have Another would not be racing in the Belmont Stakes and thus would not be a Triple Crown contender - possibly the first winner since Secretariat in 1973, an event I remember well for some reason considering I was only 15 - I had to pull over and catch my breath. I hope he has a good, long life out on the stud farm, but I was deeply saddened to hear that his injury would prevent him form running. Then again, I was also relieved that his owners made that decision not to risk his life.
When Barbaro broke his leg in 2006 at the Preakness, I followed his recovery process avidly, amazed that such a catastrophic injury would be treated and the lengths they went to help him. Sadly, it was all too much for Barbaro and he died of complications when his other feet developed laminitis due to his not being able to put his full weight on his unbroken legs. Still, for seven months there was hope.
I felt a sharp pain of regret in 2004 when Birdstone outran Smarty Jones and foiled another attempt at a Triple Crown. It was a surreal moment when a tearful owner of the winning horse apologized and said "I'm sorry, so sorry that Smarty Jones couldn't win".
Canada has it's own Triple Crown with the Queen's Plate, The Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeder's Stakes. The last time a horse won the Triple Crown was in 2003. I had to look up his name (it was Wando). Okay, I admit I am one of those people who jump on the bandwagon at the last minute and get caught up in the rush.
What I know about horse racing, I learned from reading Dick Francis. I have been to a couple of races, though they were harness racing that was held at a racetrack a few blocks from where I lived. I have never been to see the Queen's Plate, which is being held next Saturday. Horse racing has been in a steady decline over the years and now the Ontario government is considering putting a stop to a profitable and beneficial revenue sharing program where slots machines and gaming facilities were put into racetracks to complement the gambling. Lots and lots of money from these OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming) machines has benefitted the government as well as the racetracks who received a portion of revenue. It sounds like a perfect mix. Now, the talk is of taking these slots out of the racetracks and building a new casino in a more densely populated urban area. Like the waterfront of Toronto. Seriously. Ruining a good waterfront location by building a massive windowless structure so people can sit inside with blinking lights. At least at Woodbine, there is the option of going outside and seeing some horses going through their paces. Or winning a race. A live win, not a fabricated one from a machine.
Still, I will watch the Belmont this afternoon and toast to I'll Have Another's health.