Horses still good for the in­side of a man

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - JAY HOVDEY

In De­cem­ber of 2015, the Har­ris polling com­pany asked 2,252 adults to iden­tify their fa­vorite sport from a list of 20 ath­letic en­deav­ors. Pro­fes­sional foot­ball led the pack with 33 per­cent sup­port, fol­lowed by base­ball’s 15 per­cent, and col­lege foot­ball at 10 per­cent. Horse rac­ing was named by 1 per­cent of those who re­sponded, along with women’s soccer and men’s ten­nis.

A Gallup poll ask­ing a sim­i­lar ques­tion at the end of 2017 did not even list horse rac­ing among the choices, although rodeo, track and field, and mo­tocross were of­fered to the 1,049 adults who re­sponded. Rac­ing, it is pre­sumed, was some­where in the 5 per­cent “other” cat­e­gory of sports that re­ceived to­ken nods.

The peo­ple who run rac­ing ha­bit­u­ally re­sist the im­pli­ca­tions of such polling num­bers, while at the same time they pull out large chunks of hair ag­o­niz­ing over the re­sults. They point to the on­go­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the Ken­tucky Derby as proof that the sport still has a pub­lic pulse, then won­der why the magic works only once a year.

Of course, the Derby is like the Os­cars – a sin­gle des­ti­na­tion event that only nom­i­nally rep­re­sents the in­dus­try at large. Well-run re­gional race­tracks con­tinue to strug­gle, just as well-re­viewed in­de­pen­dent films floun­der at the box of­fice.

(For that mat­ter, two of the best small films of 2018 have horses at the core. “Lean on Pete” col­lected just $2.2 mil­lion in world­wide re­ceipts de­spite its 92 per­cent crit­ics’ rat­ing from Rot­ten Toma­toes, while “The Rider” earned only $3.1 mil­lion at the box of­fice and a 97 per­cent pos­i­tive rat­ing.)

Com­par­isons of horse rac­ing to foot­ball or bas­ket­ball are worse than ap­ples to, well, toma­toes. As for polls, this re­porter prefers to embrace the re­sults of a ques­tion posed by the fine peo­ple at An­i­mal Planet more than a decade ago, when the pop­u­lar cable net­work re­ceived more than 59,000 re­sponses in an at­tempt to iden­tify the world’s most pop­u­lar an­i­mals. The horse came in fourth. First place went to the tiger, Na­ture’s best­dressed beast, fol­lowed by the dog, and then the dol­phin, which means the noble equus ca­bal­lus polled ahead of the lion, the whale, the ele­phant, and the chim­panzee. Do­mes­tic cats did not make the top 10. Go fig­ure.

De­spite the arm’s-length re­al­ity of the modern dig­i­tal age, horses are al­ways a wel­come di­ver­sion. At a re­cent film fes­ti­val, Liam Nee­son fla­vored com­ments about his role in an up­com­ing Coen brothers movie with his in­sis­tence that the horse who pulled his wagon “… ac­tu­ally re­mem­bered me from an­other Western we made a while back. He whin­nied when he saw me. And pawed the ground.”

Rus­sell Crowe fol­lowed Nee­son’s lead with horse rec­ol­lec­tions of his own, about his im­pos­ing white steed from “Glad­i­a­tor.” And it is hard to for­get the mo­ment pro­vided by Lee Marvin as he ac­cepted his Academy Award for best ac­tor of 1965, for his showy dual role in “Cat Bal­lou” as a vi­cious killer and his washed-up drunk of a brother whose stag­ger­ing horse was also into the sauce.

“There’s too many peo­ple to cor­rectly thank for my ca­reer,” Marvin said, ad­mir­ing his tro­phy. “I think, though, that half of this be­longs to a horse some­place out in the val­ley.”

The more those in the pub­lic eye talk kindly about horses, the more peo­ple might be in­clined to visit them up close and per­sonal in­side the race­track gates. Among the smart things Hall of Fame trainer Richard Man­della has said is that the clos­est most modern Amer­i­cans get to a horse these days is on a merry-go-round. And yet there they were, in that An­i­mal Planet sur­vey, out­polling Dumbo, Simba, and Moby-Dick.

Tigers must be en­joyed in the ab­stract, or at a very pro­tected dis­tance. Dol­phins are ap­proach­able, although you’ve got to get wet, and, as com­pan­ions, dogs speak for them­selves.

By con­trast, horses are mainly ap­pre­ci­ated as an ideal, and of­ten are taken for granted as a pas­sive part of the Amer­i­can land­scape. Re­cent events have ren­dered cer­tain herds into flesh and blood – the con­tro­ver­sial thin­ning of mus­tang pop­u­la­tion in Northern Cal­i­for­nia, the res­cue of stranded equine flood vic­tims in the Caroli­nas – and horse rac­ing must try harder to do the same with its equine ath­letes.

Now is a good time to try. As the Breed­ers’ Cup ap­proaches, the event will be fighting for at­ten­tion in a sea of me­dia obsessed with the na­tional mid-term elec­tions. Horse rac­ing, like ev­ery other in­dus­try, will have a dog in the hunt.

The sale and trans­port of horses for slaugh­ter across in­ter­na­tional bor­ders is still a stain on the U.S. breed­ing and rac­ing econ­omy. With the pas­sage of the SAFE Act now lin­ger­ing in a dis­tracted Congress, the slaugh­ter is­sue would van­ish, and U.S. law would be aligned with the over­whelm­ing sen­ti­ments of the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

“We now have a ma­jor­ity of congress co-spon­sor­ing the bill in the House, though noth­ing is sched­uled to move it,” said an­i­mal-pro­tec­tion ad­vo­cate Chris Heyde, head of Blue Mar­ble Strat­egy.

“I am en­cour­ag­ing folks to take the bill into con­sid­er­a­tion as they head to the vot­ing booth this Novem­ber,” Heyde added. “Does their cur­rent House mem­ber cur­rently sup­port the bill? If not, vote them out. Does the per­son run­ning against them sup­port the bill? Not sure? Ask them in any re­main­ing town halls, and let them know this is how you will vote.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.