Taking a new outlook on sport of horse racing

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   Who cares about horse racing?
   I can honestly say that I didn't until this past weekend.
   As a matter of fact, I was still fuming that perhaps the greatest racing horse of all time, Secretariat, was ranked as the 35th best athlete of the twentieth century by ESPN.
   That is, ahead of such athletes as Walter Payton, Julius Erving, Oscar Robinson, Lawrence Taylor, Richard Petty, Pete Rose -- well, you get the picture.
   I always thought of horse racing as nothing but a sport centered around the rich and the gambling mobs of their times, a sport in which some of the most beautiful creatures alive were forced to run against each other while being whipped by their jockey.
   All of that changed Friday night.
   I was watching "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" where there was a parody of this year's triple-crown chaser Funny Cide and its jockey Jose Santos.
   It was poking fun at Santos' height, looking ahead to the Belmont Stakes race where Cide would have a chance to win the storied crown, something that hasn't been achieved since 1978.
   Browsing the Internet, I found a sports world captivated by the events to take place on Saturday afternoon and the more I read, the more I became interested.
   Interested in horse racing? You bet.
   I read about a rivalry based in New York between Funny Cide and Empire Maker. Maker was picked to win the Kentucky Derby earlier in the year when Cide came away with the premier race.
   Cide won the Preakness and went onto Belmont where eight horses have previously came in, only to fall short of sweeping the three-race series.
   And within the last seven years, four other horses have gone down.
   Entering Saturday's race, Funny Cide was given perhaps the best chance to win the triple crown in years.
   Major news networks were positioned outside of betting locations where many New Yorkers were putting their money and faith into Funny Cide.
   But with a muddy track and a gloomy day, one thing stood in Cide's way and it was like Darth Vader getting revenge on the Jedi's in one of the early Star Wars movies.
   If the race were in slow motion, you could hear John Williams' stunning anthem of the "Imperial March" as Funny Cide led the race before the 'evil' Empire Maker snatched away Cide's day and its hope for a triple-crown.
   Watching the late recap on ESPN2 early Sunday morning, I finally saw the drama based in the horse racing world.
   Sure there's competition between the owners and the jockeys, but the dramatic battle between the horses takes the icing from the cake.
   It's almost like the trained creatures can sense a victory or a defeat, striving to be the best among their own peers.
   With all due respect to horses such as Secretariat, Affirmed and even Go For Gin, I finally realized there is a "fun side" to horse racing after all.