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Mystery of the Racetrack 

It started to rain. Hard rain, but welcome. Rain that prodded the car's windshield wipers to manic effort but would hide the heat for hours. The only problem is what it would do to talk radio.

Ah, talk radio. Dim-Maker Supremo in today's land of the free and home of the bombastic. Opinions are like elbows; everybody's got a couple and in this land of equality, yours are valuable. Maybe not right, but what's right got to do with valuable?

This call was from Jean of Harvey, and between the lightning-caused radio burps, you could hear the view that Big Brown had been in severe pain and should never have been permitted to race at the Belmont. This is what Jean of Harvey knew for sure.

The topic was the same in the office lunchroom.

Only here, the opinions were from Gisele, and Gisele is a great believer in conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories which sometimes end up involving Larry Flynt, David Vitter and Mose Jefferson. She sat over a take-out box full of an orange fish and speared chunks with chopsticks wielded like twin stilettos. All while heaping rococo ridicule all over me.

'Somebody, probably someone like Tony Soprano, picked up the phone and called Big Brown's trainer and told him he ought not win this Belmont," she said. "I saw that scumbag before the Kentucky Derby and I saw him before the Preakness, and he was dry as a bone. You saw him at the Belmont? He was sweating more bullets than a Gatling gun."

I started to point out that it was some 96 degrees in New York that particular Saturday and this has been known to cause sweating. Gisele was having none of it.

As some already know, I have sat in judgment of thoroughbred racing for some years now. Many of these judgments have been faulty, but they demonstrate that, like most horse players, I am not easily dissuaded. So allow me to make a couple of remarks about Big Brown and his game; if Jean of Harvey and Gisele have the right, I might qualify for a few peeps.

First, I don't know if Big Brown was in pain or not before the Belmont, but I wouldn't be stunned if he was. Lives of any kind are seldom pain-free, and the life of an athlete is even less so. Watch a quarter-miler or a free safety warm up — think many of those steps are taken without knowing of the gnawing an ache can bring?

Then there's this: A thoroughbred horse runs a mile as fast as any organism on the planet, and he does it while carrying 1,200 pounds on ankles as small as yours. You don't have to be a swami to figure out this is a high-risk way to go.

Finally, consider this. If there is no racing except for that which guarantees no pains and no dangers, then there is no racing. And if there's no racing, then there are no racehorses. Do I need to draw a picture of what happens next? Maybe a tiny sketch of a bag of Puppy Chow would do.

Conspiracy theories seem to grow at the same time that the Information Age makes each and every one of us significant. If we're so significant, do we need to form conspiracies that include the likes of DaVinci, Kraft-Ebbing and John Grisham? Could Big Brown's trainer — or owner for that matter — be trusted with the keys to your cabana? No more than a bee could wound a billiard ball. But could anyone explain how either would profit by their horse finishing last in the Belmont? Or Tony Soprano, for that matter.

A few further thoughts on the matter. There are many reasons for the waning popularity of horse racing, especially the increasing animal adoration of our increasingly childless population. But one seldom discussed is this: In these days of never-ending commentary/analysis on the Jock Stations, we have become accustomed to having any and all topics talked into a casket. What will be the effect of Bill Parcel's latest move in the Jason Taylor matter? Where is Pau Gasol going to play in L.A. when Andrew Bergman comes back?

After a few news cycles, you know all about it, or like to think you do because it's all been explained. The Jock Stations are especially good at explaining why things that already have happened are inevitable. Around the racetrack, those who offered this sort of expertise were known as "red-light players" or "results players."

Because of all these developments, we do not like to be told we are not privy to all the "secrets" of the game. Lord, even the sports themselves are part of the humbug. Witness the major-league managers and NBA coaches being "interviewed" by empty-bag TV types between innings or during timeouts. The secrets are ours to share.

Except in horse racing. Horse racing remains one sport whose deepest secrets are often untouched and untouchable. Racing preserves some of the mysteries of Nature Itself and will always do so until we learn to speak in a more meaningful way to the Big Browns of the planet. We don't like it. We want the inexplicable explained — and soon.


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