Monday, June 9, 2014

What California Chrome teaches us about race relations

It dismays me once again to be the one to correct the national sporting press for misleading the American public into thinking we’re in the midst of another crisis of bad behavior.

Happened again this weekend when sports pundits declared California Chrome owner Steve Coburn, 61, a sore loser for his post-race explosion after the horse failed to win the Triple Crown.

Coburn didn’t lose. 

The horse did.

Coburn wasn’t even riding the horse!

He’s sore, sure. Who isn’t?

This was looking like the best chance we’ll ever have again for a Triple Crown winner.

One of my greatest boyhood memories was in 1973 with my old man watching the immortal Secretariat race to Belmont Park victory for what remains the most spectacular Triple Crown win in history. 

I’ve been dreaming I’d bestow that same sort of memory to our daughters.

We make a big deal out of the Triple Crown races. The night before we watch a movie about a horse, usually either “Secretariat” or “Seabiscuit.” 

(True fun fact: California Chrome was nearly named Seabisquick.)

Then as post time nears we enjoy the pageantry, handicap the horses — the girls favor the fillies — and make ridiculous wagers involving things like world domination. And as the horses come down the stretch we’re all roaring cheers urging our favorites to get their butts in gear. 

I love horse racing for the way it unites America where sports like football divide it by creating hooligan tribes of drunken fans eager to assault one another for daring to wear different colored overpriced jerseys.

Being progressive on race relations, I also appreciate horse racing because it’s the one sport that doesn’t rile the racists. They heartily cheer the black or brown horse in ways they’d never cheer for, say, LeBron James or dred-headed safety Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.

I know many racists who hate NBA basketball because it’s dominated by people of color, and as we recently learned this prejudice includes people who actually own NBA teams. Where, they ask, are all the white dudes?

It’s very offensive to enlightened souls like myself.

But even bitter racists love horse racing. This is surprising because I can’t recall ever seeing a single white dude rounding the track — and I’m talking here about white dudes with four legs.

It’s a sport that’s so joyfully colorblind even top race historians would be stumped, I’m sure, when asked to name which horse was the Jackie Robinson of thoroughbred racing.

It seemed with Chrome we were seeing something special.

In everything I’ve read for the past six weeks has said he’s a really great horse, which I’m assuming means he visits the children’s hospitals, signs autographs and makes the sweet old ladies blush when he flirts with them.

To me, those are the hallmarks of a truly great horse.

People are calling Coburn classless for saying entering a horse in the Belmont without previously giving it a go in the Derby or at the Preakness is “cowardly” and “classless.”

I agreed before learning that’s the way it’s always been. It happened to Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed when they won. Winning the crown is just very difficult.

But I’m giving the old guy a pass here.

His fairytale vaporized down the home stretch and caused him to launch into a memorable meltdown.

Did you see it?

He raged at the other owners and said they’d denied America a dream we all shared. My favorite part was near the end when his nervous looking wife whispered he ought to cool it, a remark that caused him to turn and tell her to buzz off.

Yes, behind every great man is a nervous woman telling him when it’s time to just shut the hell up.

To me, the rant was a perfectly reasonable reaction by a man who’d been thrust into the limelight for which he was unprepared at the very instant his life’s dream was destroyed.

I hope Coburn’s forgiven his graceless lapse and that he comes to appreciate the sweet side of what’s been a really great run.

Me, I’m just happy an angry, begrudged white man didn’t stoop to playing the race card in the one sport where everyone who walks through the front gate is handed a race card.

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