Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Cast a Cold Eye/On Life, On Death/Horseman, Pass By!

I wish to call your attention to a review in this week's New York Times Book Review by Eric Banks, a good friend to OPC, on the late filly Ruffian, who won all ten of her races before breaking a leg in a match race with reigning Kentucky Derby champ Foolish Pleasure in 1975. Eric points out that this was sort of a last gasp for a certain age of horseracing; I was a young lad then, and like most young people I assumed that the world had always been the way it was at that moment and would always be that way, and when the heroics of Secretariat in 1973 were followed alomst immediately by the distaff legend of Ruffian (left), who began winning races the very next year, in 1974 (when I first subscribed to Sports Illustrated, in the spring of 1975, the very first issue I received featured Foolish Pleasure on the cover for his Derby victory), I assumed that the world of thoroughbreds would forever be as exciting and popular and as populated by mythmakers as those couple of years. I was wrong.

This age had a final period of vogue in 1977, when the selfsame Sports Illustrated named teenage jockey sensation Steve Cauthen as its Sportsman of the Year -- is it even possible that a jockey would be mentioned for such an honor now? In Grantland Rice's autobiography The Tumult and the Shouting, the great sportswriter devotes an entire chapter to the great polo players he had known, and I literally could not make sense of what he was talking about, with the great stats these guys had put up with the ol' mallet, and I follow sports about as much as anyone I know.

Sports come and sports go, and it's possible that thoroughbred horseracing is going. Steve Cauthen, for his part, now rides in England.


Eric said...

Hey TJN, Thank you for the kind indulgence, as Iggy told his fans--

Cauthen's retired, by the way; he couldn't make weight any longer even in Europe.

Reportedly Time was going to put Smarty Jones on its cover a la Secretariat had he won the Belmont--which is about as close to the Cauthen 'athelete of the year' anecdote as i think you might get.

T. Nawrocki said...

Cauthen was tall for a jockey, wasn't he? I seem to recall him being about 5'5 or 5'6.

MJN said...

One huge advantage that horseracing had over most other sports for much of the 20th century was gambling. If you wanted to experience the thrill of placing a sports wager, or indeed any wager, usually the only legal outlet was the local horse track. That advantage started to erode somewhere about the 1970's, and is virtually vanished now. Horseracing operators have fought hard against the proliferation of gambling, but they have lost the war.

To look at it another way, what is horseracing without wagering? It's yachting! It's a handful of rich folks racing their expensive hobbies. I believe the time is not far off when horseracing attracts the same level of interest as yachting.