I suppose what follows can serve as my requiem for Thoroughbred Times. It is one of my favorite weekly columns in Thoroughbred Times Today, first published, according to my records, on February 25, 2011.
American novelist and short story writer Anthony Doerr is obsessed with memory. In his unforgettable novella Memory Wall, future technology allows the memories of an aging victim of Alzheimer's disease to be downloaded to digital cartridges so that she can revisit them as dementia advances.
I'm ready for my memory download. More importantly, Thoroughbred racing is desperately in need of an analog of Doerr's memory cartridges for the American sporting public.
I first became interested in Thoroughbred racing in the mid-1950s after inhaling Walter Farley's Black Stallion series of books. In those post-war boom years, wagering on horse racing was the only legal way to gamble everywhere but Las Vegas, and crowds of 50,000 and more crowded the largest tracks regularly on both coasts.
Newspapers in major cities carried race results on their sports pages, at least on the big weekends. Reading Anthony Doerr and thinking about how memory works somehow sparked a mental visual of a photo that appeared in the Nashville Tennessean in May, 1957 of the finish of the Peter Pan Stakes.
The photo, which I am sure was grainy and could not have been of very high quality on newsprint in any case, showed one of my first racing heroes *Gallant Man beating Promised Land and Nah Hiss. I think one of the reasons that photo—an ordinary three-quarter head-on finish picture—stuck in my mind for more than 50 years was the ominous, mysterious character of the third place finisher's name. Think about it...optimistic, noble names like *Gallant Man and Promised Land followed by....Nah Hiss!
(The Peter Pan was the last of three stakes-placings by Nah Hiss, a colt by Call Over out of Waymark, by Nedayr, who retired after five seasons of racing with seven wins in 73 starts and earnings of $49,817. Yes, they made them tougher in those days.)
Ten-year-olds in rural Tennessee, suburban Des Moines, or the heart of New York City nowadays have virtually zero chance of developing a persistent memory of their own version of Nah Hiss. Racing coverage in non-specialist newspapers, television, or sporting websites is virtually non-existent except for the biggest events of the year. Interests and habits developed in childhood often last a lifetime, but Thoroughbred racing currently has no viable conduit for reaching those kids whose psyches would be susceptible to the addictive charms of our sport.
Where is the Zenyatta/Rachel Alexandra racing video game for Playstation? Where is the Jockey Challenge for the Wii platform? Talk about a workout! Anyone who has ever ridden with short stirrups knows how many calories that would burn.
The Breeders' Cup at least has an iPad and iPhone app that sends racing news to those devices, and the NTRA offers a download of the NTRA Virtual Horse Racing game, but that is not nearly enough. The current generation of ten-year-olds is plugged in to personal computers, cell phones, or gaming devices 24/7, and if we cannot reach them what kind of future do we have when they are the adults with discretionary income?
In Doerr's story, the memory cartridges ultimately benefit those around the aging woman far more than they do her. The memory of the moments just before her fossil-hunter husband's death leads to the discovery of a fossil worth millions that, by somewhat circuitous means, go to her poor caretaker.
In the digital age, a comparable payoff is out there for Thoroughbred racing. All we need is the creativity and the will to find it.