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'Is horse racing a sport?' Are you serious?

BY TORK MASON | MAY 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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I came across a thread on a message board on the afternoon of May 5, following the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby — one that questioned why horse racing is considered a sport.

Here's an excerpt:

"Sure a human rides and beats a horse's [expletive], but to me, that's not sporting."

Really?

This is the country in which NASCAR is considered a sport. You know, the activity in which a machine does all the physical work. But the drivers are the ones who are adored, hated, and remembered. All they do is make scores of left turns.

Sure, there's strategy involved in NASCAR — a lot, in fact. But chess and checkers have a lot of strategy involved, too. Are we ready to give Samuel Shankland (the latest American chess Grandmaster) the title of "athlete"?

That strategy is also present in horse racing. Jockeys have to know when to turn their ride loose, which opponents to watch for, and where the track runs the fastest. That sounds an awful lot like stock-car racing to me.

The horse is a living thing — and they seem to get credit for that. The horse is the one celebrated after a win. You don't see flowers draped all over the jockey who was riding the winning horse, and you don't see Ron Turcotte anywhere on the statue of Secretariat at Belmont Park.

Quick, tell me who I'll Have Another's jockey was. Humor me.

You had to look it up, didn't you? Me, too.

History won't remember Mario Gutierrez because of the May 5 race. Hell, most people can't remember who he is right now — and the race was two days ago.

History will remember I'll Have Another, the 15-1 underdog that started the race in the 19th post — the first to win from that post in Derby history — and came from behind to take the lead in the final furlong. It remembers Secretariat, War Admiral, and Man O' War. Gutierrez will be remembered if he rides I'll Have Another to a Triple Crown. But he'll still serve as little more than a footnote to the history made by his mount.

Horse racing isn't about the jockeys. It's about the horses. And the horses are athletes, just like LeBron James, Chris Johnson, and Starlin Castro are. Just search "Chad Johnson beats horse in a race" on YouTube for proof.

Thoroughbreds are bred for one purpose: to race.

You'll also have a hard time persuading me that humans are more competitive than thoroughbreds. There are countless stories of horses racing each other in pastures, and I think most of us have seen Seabiscuit.

And what are these horses racing for? They don't know what the Kentucky Derby is; or the Preakness; or the Belmont. They certainly don't know what Vegas oddsmakers have to say about the race, or how much money is being bet upon them. There are no stakes for the animals except pride.

Honestly, is there a purer form of competition?

Follow DI reporter Tork Mason on Twitter.


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