14 May 2010
Horse Racing once stood atop the pinnacle of American sporting pursuits. The sport of kings, a competition relying not on human strength and skill, but instead the brute power of a beast, controlled by the skill of a man who steered the critter to victory and in some cases immortality. The names of prized Thoroughbreds were once household names: Man O'War, Secretariat, Affirmed. The sport translates poorly to television, where the thrill of a radio announcer calling out the leaders at various points along the course is replaced by the vision of a pack of horses almost entirely indistinguishable from each other stampeding around an oval track.
For the Kentucky Derby, the slow down has resulted in a greater focus on it, the signature jewel in the Triple Crown. To win at Churchill Downs is still prestigious. And the Belmont Stakes will draw the eye of casual observers if and only if some horse has triumphed in the first two races. That leaves the Preakness. The middle kid. Sleighted by its siblings, underloved, under appreciated and challenged for relevancy. Two of my blogospheric buds have taken notice of Saturday's race. The irrepressible slanch noted the new marketing campaign aimed at the youths who couldn't be bothered to visit Pimlico last year. Note to race organizers, kids like drinking, so more booze, more kids.
Aaron Torres recounts his own experiences in Maryland, where believe it or not, he was unable to verify the existence of the actual races.
Either way, three years removed from my first Preakness, I'm glad to say I went. Glad to say that I got to experience it in its truest form, before rules and regulations limited one of the best events on the calendar.What makes Pimlico intriguing is that the nature of popular culture places particular pressures on bridge events. And frequently those middles are worthy of the challenge. The signature sequel that exceeded the movie it followed was The second chapter of the Godfather. The youngest child suffered in comparisons to its elder siblings of much renown. A similar fate befell Return of the Jedi, which never could match the brilliance of either the good Star Wars nor the exceptional Empire Strikes Back. Recently the middle story has spelled the doom of latter sequels as the weight of continuing past greatness while setting up future brilliance has proven too great a burden to bear. Whether it's sports film franchises like Major League, or the Mighty Ducks or fantastical tales of adventures past (Pirates of the Caribbean) or future (The Matrix) being second was worse than being Malcolm in the Middle.
The 2007 and 2008 Preakness Stakes will go down as two of the funnest sporting events I've ever attended in person.
Who cares if I barely saw a horse.
There is hope, though. Two summers past, Chris Nolan gave us the Dark Knight, a sequel so stunningly superior to its predecessor that its partisans heralded it as the finest film of the year. (It was close, I preferred Wall-E myself) So Preankness planners take heart. Your well-deserved entry into the A-list is close. You need merely to re-animate Heath Ledger dress him as the Joker and set him loose on the unsuspecting infield
Why so serious?
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