Tuesday, June 12, 2012
This euphemism was a favorite of a stepdaughter when she was a teenager, when I might have used "Rubbish!". I thought of it on Friday when the news that the favorite for the Belmont Stakes had been scratched. First, a little background about horse racing. I was born a few miles from Epsom Downs, where Britain's most famous flat race takes place, the Derby. It is for three-year old horses--mainly colts, but fillies are eligible. It is the second of the three biggest races of the season. The first takes place at Newmarket, the racehorse capital of the nation: the 2,000 Guineas. This is for colts: in the U.K.'s sexist society the fillies race in the 1,000 Guineas. The third race is the St. Leger, run at Doncaster, if I recall correctly. It is rare for the same horse to win all three races. Likewise, in the US, the three races are the Preakness, run at Aqueduct in Baltimore; the Kentucky Derby, at Churchill Downs in Kentucky; and the Belmont Stakes, at Pimlico, near New York City. It is rare for a horse to win the "Triple Crown", by coming in fist at all three races. In fact, the last time this happened was in 1978, when the appropriately-named Affirmed triumphed. This year, the first two races were won by another well-named colt, I'll Have Another. There was great excitement, and that horse became a 4-5 favorite for the Belmont by Thursday. I'm not a betting man, but I know that means that to win $400 and get your stake back, you have to put down $500. Then, on Friday morning came the disappointing news: the favorite had been scratched. After the early morning workout, it had been noticed that the horse had incipient tendinitis in the left foreleg. We were told that the horse could have run, but might have been handicapped, and the condition made more severe. So, once again, no Triple Crown this year. The horse will be "retired to stud". When the mating season begins next year, stud fees will be quite substantial. I'll Have Another will never race again. Trainer and Owners have received much sympathy and praise for this sad decision. They tell us convincingly that they really love that horse, and always will, and that they had to act "in the best interests" of the horse. I don't doubt that, but left unsaid is the strong economic reason to support the decision. Which would be more valuable, a horse which had won two big races, but failed at the next attempt; or a horse which had won two races, was an odds-on favorite for the next race, but didn't run? We're talking about huge amounts of stud fees at risk here. So scratching the horse was not just a sentimental choice by animal lovers, it was a sound financial decision by two business-like members of the notorious "1%". A harsher cynic than your faithful correspondent might say they are "crying all the way to the bank".