In 1978 John Lydon walked on stage for the last time as a member of his first band and launched a song entitled “No Fun”. He ended the song and the band by asking the audience, “Do you ever feel like you’ve been cheated?”
Six years before that, my father took me to the track for the first time. I was six, and what he specifically took me to was a shed at the back of Fonner Park in Nebraska. You probably didn’t know where that number was until, for a brief moment in time, it was captured with astonishing sharpness and accuracy by the New York Times’ Joe Drape, it was one of the few runways in use during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
We went to visit Clark “Shorty” Hudson and his wife, Helen, who were part of a small town village in southern Nebraska who helped—in every way—raise my orphaned father.
I still have the smell of the barn in my head. It was heaven for me. I still remember the names of most of their six or eight horses. In 1974 Dad claimed his first horse and a few weeks later she won. And I was addicted.
I could go on and on to make my point, but this sport has meant more to me for over 50 years than I could ever explain. If you’re reading this, you know what I’m talking about.
But I don’t want anything to do with it anymore. It is not fun. I feel like I’ve been cheated.
A few weeks ago, the horse racing ushered in a new season of four- and five-horse fields in California, where officials are wagging their tails at a man who is supposedly good on television. And there will be races there where he has three out of five entries.
In Florida, two or three barns will win each open-stakes race. In many of them, one man will own two or three of the entries and the others will be owned by partnerships of partnerships who have figured out that they can increase their chances of winning by not competing against each other.
In Philadelphia, Ozone Park, and a few other places, races will be held in front of virtually no one, and the riders will split what amounts to welfare from a pool of money the “casino and racetrack” earns from people living in a dark, depressing room. full of jingling sounds mindlessly pulling a lever (or are they just pushing a button?). Eventually the day will come when operators figure out how to stop subsidizing this sport with their casino money.
The ostensible flagship horse racing entity will count their NFL money that comes from selling a breathtaking sanctuary to the sport donated to us by a man who loved the game so much, he wouldn’t even play it in Illinois for a few weeks. let die. And now racing in Illinois can only count the days until it’s all over. Then I assume the flagship owners will turn their attention to abolishing the country’s second-oldest track. I’m sure they’ve already started.
In the end we get there on the first Saturday in May and we won’t see the best horse of this generation there because, well, you know.
And it won’t be a celebration of the glory of this sport, although we’ll try to make it look like one with a bunch of celebrities trying to outdo each other in a ridiculous couture pageant.
What it really will be: A long, sad attempt at explaining ourselves — again — to a nation that cares about our sport for just four days a year (sometimes just three), unless we shock them with even more carnage, or maybe a massive fraud plot.
I have not been an owner or breeder for about seven years. I haven’t worked on a backside in 26 years. I only play eight to ten times a year (I live in a state where bill betting isn’t legalized and I hate being in a simulcast dump) but I’ve been disabled and watched races almost every day since TVG in the air came.
I always intended to go back to the sport and enjoy it as an owner and more frequent player when I retired. And now that I have that, I don’t want anything to do with it. It is not fun. I feel cheated. I don’t want the foul stench of this on me. I would be ashamed to be a part of it.
It just seems to me that if someone was more or less born and raised with this sport and nurtured it spiritually for over 50 years because it was so much fun – because most of the best memories of their life came from experiences as a member of the racing family and the beauty of this sport – reaches the point where he doesn’t want to watch it or even hear about it anymore, then he can at least tell this thing he loved why he’s leaving. And now I have.
– Name withheld, Texas
Editor’s Note: The writer requested that his name be withheld due to family ties to individuals currently working in the horse industry.
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