the Million Dollar Race

My very first post on open container speedWay – the Get Rich Quick Trick of the Week – was a bit of a failure.

No one got rich quick on my advice that week.

I wrote it the morning of last year’s Preakness Stakes. The Preakness is the so-called “2nd Jewel” of the Triple Crown; the fabled & elusive grand prize of American thoroughbred horseracing.

The Triple Crown is a 3-race sequence that begins on the first Saturday every May with the Kentucky Derby. It’s followed in two weeks by the Preakness. The third and final jewel, run 3 weeks after the Preakness, is the grueling mile & one-half Belmont Stakes; a veritable equine marathon.

These races are restricted to 3-year-old horses. For a variety of reasons – the distance of each race; the length of time between races; that they’re run by a particular crop of horses just once – it is a supreme achievement to win all three. A supreme achievement, and rare. Accomplishable only by the rarest of Champions.

The Triple Crown was won three times – by Secretariat, Seattle Slew & Affirmed – during the 1970’s. None have won all three races since.

With few exceptions, none of my readers are racehorse enthusiasts. Still I feel certain that each of you will feel touched, in a strange way – touched by joy – when finally the Crown gets claimed by a rarest of equine champions.

It’ll give cause to celebrate.

In each of the past three years an exceptional racehorse has very nearly won. Came so close that their losses, viewed in combination, can only be described as an extreme fluke.

In 2004 Smarty Jones nailed the Derby & Preakness in impressive fashion – only to lose the Belmont by a mere length before a stunned & saddened crowd of 130,000.

In 2005 Afleet Alex treated fans of the game to emotionally stirring Preakness & Belmont Stakes wins – after he was eliminated, from Triple Crown contention, when he finished the Kentucky Derby one seemingly inexplicable length behind 50-to-1 longshot winner Giacomo.

Last year, of course, it was Barbaro.

Barbaro buried fellow Kentucky Derby contenders so profoundly that his ultimate sweep of the Triple Crown was considered an all but unstoppable certainty.

“Barring some unforeseen tragedy,” Washington Post racehorse columnist Andy Beyer – a deservedly well-regarded purveyor of such opinions – swore, “Barbaro will win the Triple Crown.”

I disagreed. So I wrote a blog-post, the morning of last year’s Preakness Stakes, which urged readers to bet against Barbaro. That was my Get Rich Quick Trick of the Week.

“Barbaro will lose today,” I assured, it turned out, too correctly.

So in a sense the post did succeed. I was right. But I came up short in two crucial ways: 1. I did not explain why my certainty that Barbaro would lose. 2. I did not provide my readers – or myself for that matter – with a viable alternative wager.

The fact that Barbaro ultimately lost his life, to a gruesome leg injury sustained at the race’s onset, still makes me feel a little…weirded out. By the irony. But grateful, ultimately, for my failure to predict the winner.

Barbaro’s loss was a genuine tragedy. Not just for the horse, his connections, and fans of the race game; Barbaro’s loss is indicative of a greater calamity.

Humankind’s.

And I want no profit from humankind’s calamity.

The equine as a species has been profoundly good & helpful to humans. But humans by & large have treated the equine cruelly — racehorses in particular.

One example: In his final race before the 2005 Kentucky Derby, Afleet Alex, despite his already insurmountable lead, was whipped mercilessly by jockey Jeremy Rose. Though it was a profoundly careless decision, one can’t blame Rose entirely. He was over-excited. His mount’s owners were considering replacing him with a more experienced jockey for the Kentucky Derby. So Rose wanted to prove he could pilot Afleet Alex to an impressive win.

“It was a Million Dollar Race,” Rose explained, when asked by reporters to justify his plainly needless whip action.

It was a Million Dollar Race.

One Afleet Alex indeed did win impressively; but the cost of that performance was dear.

Fast forward three weeks: Afleet Alex, with a quarter-mile to go, is in a perfect stalking position to surge forward & overtake the Big Race’s tiring leaders; superbly poised to win the Kentucky Derby. Yet he ‘failed to fire,’ as they say in racetrack parlance. His one-length loss, I’ve mentioned, is considered inexplicable by fans of the game.

But I can explain it easy.

Perhaps his blowout win 3 weeks earlier caused Afleet Alex to inadvertently expend the ATP he needed to triumph in the Kentucky Derby. Though I believe the loss was more conscious, than biochemical, in nature.

I propose it was deliberate.

When asked by his jockey to hit the gas, as it were, and make a winning move in the Churchill Downs’ homestretch…Afleet Alex simply said, “Whatever dude.”

Remember: Afleet Alex went on to score huge wins in the Preakness & Belmont. Thus, had he won the Derby, Afleet Alex would’ve swept the Triple Crown – a priceless prize that would give humans joy – and he plumb did not want to.

Not after he got his ass whipped for money.

And that, albeit belatedly, explains why I knew Barbaro would lose last year’s Preakness Stakes. Overwhelming likelihood is, had he won the Preakness, Barbaro would’ve gone on the claim the Crown. But he, like Afleet Alex, did not want to. Or perhaps he wanted to but regrettably could not; because people are cruel to racehorses. And cruelty inevitably begets disappointment.

Heads Up to the human community: the racehorses are trying to tell us something!

Smart bet is to listen.

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5 Responses to “the Million Dollar Race”


  1. 1 citizen j March 27, 2007 at 6:21 am

    You are spot-on bang to rights. Horses put up with a lot from us, in exchange for rubdowns and heated stocks with good grub, and it’s so obvious when they decide the limits to the relationship. I think the most powerful and praeterobvious thing humans should recognize is how mismatched our anthrocentric intellectual superiority complex is with the fact that we suck at both intraspecific and interspecies communication. (I suck at picking horses, too, but that’s a different story.)

  2. 2 Mike E March 27, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    I suck at picking horses, too, but that’s a different story.

    I respectfully ask, citizen j: Is it so different a story?

    Thanks for the good comment — and for the obviously hard work put into your own first-rate blog.

    Stay Happenin,
    Mike E

  3. 3 citizen j March 29, 2007 at 3:22 am

    You know, it really is, one probably worth a probability theorist’s time. I have no idea why i suck so bad at picking ponys, but i defy statistical averages to such an extent that i can almost feel the horses in the pen wishing away my wagers. I can turn an odds-on favorite into a cripple just by saying “Trifecta”.

    My pleasure and Thanks! I’d buy y’all a beer if this wasn’t the Brave New Web.
    (Nice Gonzo, BTW)

  4. 4 leightoncooke March 29, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    What a beauty. I love horses but I’ve not been riding for years.

  5. 5 absintheve March 29, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    repeat after me…
    i am a winner this year…
    oh i can feel it..the horse just winked at me…

    But wait didn’t we win last year too?
    or no that was the one where we watched Barbaro go down…
    that was traumatic….
    oh right and i think they are smart enough to know that the last one went to the meat factory….
    Wowsers….see you soon….dude E
    The wookie ship is taking off!!!!
    lucy loophole


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