Sports Blather

Vonda's Favorite MugI’m watching the pre-race blather for the Belmont Stakes, where the announcers and commentators have to fill an hour and a half with fluff, presumably so they can fill in around a two-minute race with enough commercials to make ABC a profit after covering however much the network had to pay for the rights to broadcast the race.

It’s 48 minutes into the broadcast, the race is about to begin, which means they’ll have another 40 minutes afterwards that they’ll have to fill, dissecting the race. Before the race they do “Did you know…?” and after it they do “What if…?”

Most of the “Did you know…?” fluff is sports statistics. Did you know Tiger Woods won four major tournaments in a row five or six or seven years ago? That he’s the only golfer ever to do that?

Why, no, I didn’t. Should I? Is this a standard measure of golfing supremacy? I would think the fact I even know he’s a golfer would be plenty of evidence for golfing supremacy, considering I can’t name a single other working pro golfer and I consider golf the single most boring game I’ve ever tried to play.

The commentators went through a number of other sports statistics, each one more heavily qualified and meaningless than the next; trying to recall them a few minutes later, I couldn’t retrieve anything more than “Um, one was about basketball.”

(The race is about to start. Some of the most interesting stuff about a race is putting the horses into the starting gate. But we apparently aren’t going to see that, because we need to see a beer commercial. It isn’t even a Clydesdale commercial, to which I confess an embarrassing fondness. We also need to see a prostate medicine commercial. Ew. At least this one isn’t about “the male prostate.”)

I’m not a big horse race fan. I’ve seen too many Thoroughbreds with busted-up legs.

So I’m not sure why I usually watch the Triple Crown races, except for an old family connection with the Kentucky Derby. My grandfather (my mom’s father, who died before I was born) was an M.D. He practiced in the first half of the 20th century and was one of the first radiologists. His family lived in Louisville. Family mythology has it that they had a box at Churchill Downs, and that he was the first medical person to apply X-ray technology to equine medicine.

I have a set of sterling silver mint julep cups, with my grandmother’s monogram. (Mint juleps are the official high-octane drink of the Kentucky Derby.) Mint juleps aren’t my drink,* but I swear that if Rachel Maddow on her show drinks another mint julep out of plastic, I’m going to hunt down her address and send her a pair of decent silver cups. I probably won’t, really. I don’t suppose they’d get any farther than the mail room — they’d look quite opaque to an X ray and the package would likely be thrown out unopened.

(The race just started. Dunkirk is leading, and I’m partial to greys, but for a race the length of the Belmont you have to wonder if being first at the beginning is a particularly good idea.)

I’ve never been to a Thoroughbred race; I’ve never placed a bet. I’ve been to the track, but behind the scenes, looking at horses to buy. My family owned an ex-racehorse or two. Lousy racehorses often make excellent hunter/jumpers, if their legs haven’t been ruined, because they have calmer temperaments than good racehorses. My sister’s ex-racehorse was one of the sweetest creatures you would ever hope to meet.

(Race results: Dunkirk came in second, staying in first almost all the way to the end. Clearly Mine that Bird was supposed to win; the first interview is with his jockey.)

The announcers are awfully disappointed that Mine that Bird didn’t win. They’re disappointed that there’s no Triple Crown this year. They’re disappointed at not having a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

So they’re making stuff up about some mythical, fantastical, invented Triple Crown doppelganger. Before the race, they kept referring to the possibility that the jockey might win the Triple Crown, riding Mine that Bird in the Derby and the Belmont, and Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness.

Huh? There’s no Triple Crown for jockeys. No offense to jockeys. The Triple Crown gets won by the horse.

But the most ridiculous comment (I backed the recording up to listen to it again to be sure I’d heard it right) was the assertion that Mine that Bird was looking for a win in the Belmont so the horse could have a “virtual Triple Crown.”

A virtual Triple Crown? WTF?

None of his colleagues called him on it. Maybe they were as speechless as I would have been if somebody had said that to me on the air. Maybe sports announcers aren’t allowed to call their colleagues morons or idiots in public. In any event, the comment passed un-commented-upon.

I’ve been sitting here typing and trying to figure out what on earth “virtual Triple Crown” might mean.

He would have won the Triple Crown if he hadn’t lost the second race? (Duh.)

He would have won the Triple Crown if he’d had the same jockey for all three races? (The commentators replayed the Kentucky Derby and came to the conclusion that absolutely certainly he would have won the race if he’d had his previous jockey. To which all I can respond with is, “Yeah, right.”)

But here’s what I think they really meant, though I hasten to add they didn’t actually say it out loud. I could sure see those little cartoon thought balloons over their heads, though.

I think they meant, “The horse got beat in the Kentucky Derby by a filly, so it doesn’t count.”

I leave connections to current politics as an amusing exercise to the reader.

– Vonda

* I prefer champagne – a friend of mine, on winning a Nebula, said sadly that her editor had sent her a bottle of Really Good Champagne, but she didn’t drink. I was envious.


I blog here every Sunday, and irregularly otherwise as the spirit takes me.

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Sports Blather — 3 Comments

  1. Too funny, Vonda. I agree, the race just wasn’t working out right for the commentators. Mine That Bird was supposed to win. Rachel Alexandra was supposed to run. Mine That Bird was supposed to win the Preakness. A stallion is supposed to win everything. It’s very funny when you look at it the way you’re looking at it.

    For the record, I thought it was a great race. Mine that Bird got robbed again. By his brother. Yes, I would have loved to see a showdown between Rachel Alexander and Mine that Bird, but a great race is when something unexpected happens.

    And yes, they do need to talk about it 45 minutes before and 45 minutes after. Those are the rules. Actually, that’s nothing. We got to the bar an hour and half before kick off and we stayed for about 3 hours after it was over. I don’t remember very much about what we said but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t about Tiger Woods’ stats.

    Thanks for the recap!

  2. Martha, that must have been a pretty cool experience.

    Sue, you’re absolutely right, and the fact that the announcers clearly wanted Mine that Bird (a gelding) to win even though stallions are supposed to win all races, and mares have to be disappeared if they win, just adds another level of amusing cognitive dissonance.

    Never mind than in real life (the life of a racehorse has nothing to do with real life), stallions basically tussle with other stallions and procreate, while the mares take care of the business of getting the herd where it needs to go to survive winter, drought, predation. They also teach colts manners.

    Vonda