Tuesday, September 4, 2007

On One Hand, On Another Hand

Starr Ann and I figured that growing up in the orphanage was about like growing up anywhere else - it had both good points and bad. The nuns were awful good to us, especially Sister Blissmarie. We always wondered if we didn't have a whole lot more in common with Sister Bliss than any of us ever talked about.
Anyway, Starr Ann and I were still pretty young and feeling wilder by the day when we realized there were two choices in front of us. We could stay at the orphanage and eventually disappoint the nuns real bad, or we could strike out on our own and see what there was to see. We were sixteen when we ran away, with $50 to our names and no idea where we were going.

By some miracle, and we still don't know what led us there, we wandered onto a racetrack and got hotwalking jobs within the week. Never spent one day hungry or without a place to stay. Believe me, we know how lucky that was. And to this day, we are conflicted about the whole business of horseracing.

Have you ever used a magnifying glass to focus the sun's energy and start a little fire? Entering the racetrack backside is like stepping onto the hot side of that lens. Seems like all the loveliness, cruelty, kindness and meanness from out in the world gets concentrated there.

The horses, of course, from cheap claimers to graded stakes winners, are the most beautiful part by far. The sheer visual luxury of being surrounded by all those fit, gleaming creatures alters your brainwaves, keeps them close to alpha most of the time. And the excitement of the races is addictive.

But like everywhere else, there's a definite flipside. For one thing, the whole setup is unnatural. Horses are not meant to live in a ten by ten pen. They are not meant to be separated, prevented from nudging up against each other, dropping their heads to graze, taking off for a gallop just because it feels good.

That's what's so confusing to anyone who loves horses and is drawn to horseracing at the same time.

Starr Ann and I have watched Ruffian's races so many times, we know them by heart, the way some people know their favorite songs. And she was put together like poetry, like the queen that she was. When she broke down so tragically and so publicly, the horseracing industry suffered mightily for an entire decade. As people stayed away the betting windows, the loss of revenue trickled downhill until it reached the horses, causing more suffering, poorer conditions. The public's genuine concern and disgust ended up hurting the horses most of all.

Starr Ann and I figure the whole thing comes down to reconciling the answers to two questions. How can you condone or support an endeavor that is often not in the best interests of so many horses? How can you not get chills when you watch a race like Rags to Riches' Belmont Stakes?

We're going to try again this evening to sort it all out and come up with a way to get comfortable with our love of racing and our acquaintance with its dark side. If we get anywhere with that, I'll let you know.