You can call me Bob, but I’m known around these parts as “The Pensioner”.
Home is an old farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, halfway between “The Graveyard of Favorites” up in Saratoga Springs and Jerome Park down in the Bronx. Once upon a time, these were two of the prettiest race courses in the world. But then – 125 years ago this week – one of them was taken by eminent domain so it might be turned into a reservoir.
As reported by The New York Times 125 years ago today …
With the passing away of 1894 there comes also the passing away of one of the most famous and charming spots in America that has ever been devoted to the interest of sport. – – – The men who brought the picturesque spot into existence as a pleasure resort are not those who are responsible for the fact that racing has degenerated until legislative enactments to restrict gambling, the curse of the sport, have become necessary. – – – That the waters may wipe out the remembrances of degenerate Jerome Park and leave only the memories of its brighter and earlier days is the fervent wish of every lover of sport.
As my cheval pals across the pond might say, “Plus ca change, n’est-ce pas?”
These are hard times for anyone who loves American Thoroughbred racing. What was once unthinkable – that the terrible and degenerate beauty of Santa Anita Park could get wiped out by a cleansing rain in the form of real estate development – has become all too thinkable.
Still worse, the people tasked with navigating the sport between the Scylla and Charybdis of widespread sports betting and a tectonic cultural shift in animal welfare concerns seem to be asleep at the helm. In a feat with a degree of difficulty equivalent to converting the 7-10 split in bowling, racing seems determined to be swallowed whole by the sports betting monster and getting sucked down into the animal welfare vortex.
As a pensioner, I’ve felt fortunate to have watched racing’s annus horribilis of 2019 from a safe distance. I know I’m one of the lucky few. My races have been run, the roof over my head isn’t going anywhere, and there are fresh oats every morning. But it distresses me to see the sport I have loved for so long being led astray. There is nothing in this for me, but that disinterest alone is probably my best reason for speaking out.
Thus, I hereby proclaim that I have rejoined the fray. American Thoroughbred racing, by the combination of its minders’ actions and inactions, doesn’t really deserve to exist. But its thoroughbreds do. They have earned their place in this world, and not just in some fabled lost city of Atlantis that people won’t even remember 125 years from now.