Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Horse racing made the most of its brief annual spotlight allowance Saturday when American Pharoah eased past the Belmont Stakes field to become the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown.
Many speculated a Triple Crown winner would rejuvenate the sport, whose popularity has dwindled since Affirmed last took the honor in 1978.
I’m not so sure.
Personally, I’m 23 years old, meaning I’ve never seen a Triple Crown winner not named Miguel Cabrera. So for that reason, I was plenty excited to catch Saturday’s race. I wanted to witness history, and I’m glad I made sure to figure out what time the race was on — not that the rest of the News Tribune sports staff would have let me miss it.
But, for me, history was about the only draw.
The race was plenty thrilling because of its stakes, but I don’t think a horse outrunning seven other horses wire-to-wire could keep my attention if the thoroughbred wasn’t about to do something that hadn’t been done since “Grease” was in theaters.
The irony of it is, the thing that made horse racing worth watching was hoping for a specific finish, and now that it has happened, I’m not sure I’ll watch horse racing anymore.
The proverbial horse got its carrot, so what’s the point in still pulling the cart?
Now I’ll admit, I’m far from a horse-racing buff. I’m sure if I were, I’d be digesting this historic weekend differently. (Maybe this is just because I never got around to watching “Seabiscuit.”)
But I think I’m a fairly representative U.S. sports fan for someone my age: I follow the major four leagues — even more so when one of my home teams is involved — and I’m willing to latch onto tangentially popular sports, too.
For instance, I watch soccer, as do an increasing number of 20-something American sports fans. Heck, I even used to watch Arena League Football before it folded for the 300th time.
But the average amount of horse racing knowledge for a sports fan my age boils down to “No one ever wins the Triple Crown and they kill the horses if their ankles break.”
And now only half of that is true.
I think many of horse racing’s problems are intrinsic. It’s hard to care about a sport where you can’t be sure if the competitors even know what’s going on. Believe me, I’ve been a Rams fan for the past decade.
It’s also hard to care too much about who wins amongst owners who each make more money in a year than most of us will ever see — not to mention all the ethically sticky components of the sport you have to ignore to enjoy any of it.
So now that the streak has been broken, I’m not sure I’ll even bother to tune in next spring. It’s similar to what I imagine it would be like if the Cubs finally won another World Series.
Sure, I bet it would be one of the coolest moments in sports history if it happened — and I’m saying this as a Cardinals fan — but in the ensuing years, I think some of the magic of being a Cubs fan would gradually dissipate.
At that point, I guess it comes down to whether that one high was worth losing some of the mystique that made the win so magical in the first place. For Cubs fans, it probably would.
As a casual observer of horse racing, I’m glad I watched, but I’m also happy to have three fewer Saturdays each spring when I have to worry about checking my TV listings.
Anyway, now that this drought has been quenched, maybe the St. Louis Blues can win a Stanley Cup before I die.