A Dying Sport Revived For One Fan

I went to Pimlico on Saturday to watch a dying sport for the first time.  I wanted to see if there were any remnants of the sport that made so many horses and jockeys and writers and broadcasters and owners and trainers famous.  I wanted just a piece of that old-school nostalgia.  I didn’t quite find that, but what I did find was an excitement rare in sports.

Horse racing is something that comes to the mind of most people two or three times a year.  The first time people think about horse racing is to watch the Kentucky Derby.  The second time is the Preakness, and that is where this story begins.

There is one, and only one, exciting thing that can happen in horse racing: a Triple Crown Winner.  Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby.  If he won the Preakness, there would be an enormous amount of hype surrounding the Belmont Stakes.  No horse has won a Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.  Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown the year before.  Triple Crowns did not used to be so rare.  America would fall in love with a new horse every year, until this drought.

I was apprehensive going into the Preakness.  I received a text message from a friend the night before saying, “Its boring and stinks of old aristocracy.”  The old aristocracy was what I was excited for.  Everyone hears about the hats and sees them on television, but I was excited to get so close to hats on my own.

This was The Year of the Plastic Red Mug at Pimlico.  For $20, a person could get unlimited beer, and patrons took advantage.  There is a divide at the Preakness between middle class and upper class.  A fence and a racetrack separate the middle class from the upper class.  The middle class arrived early and stayed all day.  It was an event.  The patrons of the expensive seats arrived later.  The big race started at 6:15.  The big hats started filtering in around 5:30.

Check out this guy's hat...

It was a return to the drunken nights of college for the infield patrons.  It was a mess, and the people were not there for horse racing.  The beer tent, where people could refill their mugs, was packed all day.  The Zac Brown band and OAR performed before an enormous crowd.  Beach volleyball attracted a crowd as well.

And then there was the horse racing, and there was something about it unlike every other sporting event I have ever been to: the betting.

There are 13 races throughout the day at Pimlico.  To keep it exciting, it is nice to have a little bit of money on every race.  I wanted to watch a while to get a feel and try to make informed bets.  I figured out the secret to horse racing in these first few races: It is a complete and unadulterated crapshoot.  I put down $2 on three races betting on the 3 horse all three times.  I lost $2 all three times.  

And then came the Preakness itself.

I bet on the 12 horse, Dublin.  He was a 9-1 shot, good odds for a horse with an Irish name.  I put down $20 in an all or nothing bet on Dublin to win it all.  If I won, I would have won around $180.

The next few minutes are what separates horse racing from every other sport. I have never had an opportunity to win so much money in such a short amount of time.  The anticipation was building and by the time the gates opened, I was as excited as I was when the Red Sox were last in the World Series (blasphemous, I know).

Then the race started, and we all started laughing.  The 12 horse stumbled out of the gate.  Dublin didn’t have a chance after 2 steps.  In hindsight, I obviously should have known that a horse named Lookin’ at Lucky who was horse #7 would win.  Common sense.  Anyone could have picked that.  And in fact my wonderful girlfriend did.  Just embarrassing.

I lost $20.  I gained 25 minutes of World Series level excitement.

I think I just became a fan of a dying sport.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mojo Jojo on May 17, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I know I’ve never had so much fun coming out even money for a day.


  2. Posted by your (almost for real) neighbor on May 18, 2010 at 2:17 am

    haha great picture of the hat, lisa (you are “wonderful”) 🙂


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