Monday, June 09, 2008

Idle threat of the week

Before World War 2 thoroughbred racing and prizefighting were pillars of our sporting landscape. Fast forward a few generations and not only have both fallen well behind sports such as football and even golf, but these days Americans wanting to get their racing or blood lust fix are increasingly tuning out the originals and turning to NASCAR and ultimate fighting.

Unlike boxing, which has become completely irrelevant, horse racing still has its Triple Crown races. And for three spring Sundays every year the ponies rule the sporting roost like they did when your grandmother was young.

From a drama standpoint, it helps that no horse has won all three races since Affirmed did in 1978, but 11 have made it interesting by capturing the first two legs.

This year it was Preakness and Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown's turn to try for non-human athletic immortality. While the colt wasn't able to capture the imagination of the public like the graceful Barbaro or the plucky Smarty Jones had in recent years, Big Brown was still good for a UPS joke or two, excelled at not sustaining fatal injuries during big races, and had the eyes of the nation on him during Sunday's Belmont Stakes.

Of course he didn't win. Instead spectacularly coming in last place. Although he was able to continue his impressive streak of not dying. And Big Brown's quest for the Triple Crown is the idle threat of the week for June 2nd to 8th.

But Big Brown's loss is horse racing's gain. The elusive Triple Crown is all the sport of kings has going for it. Meaning when a horse finally does complete the trifecta, thoroughbred racing will -- in the mangled words of prizefighting's last great superstar -- fade into a bolivian.

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