Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Fourth of July and the Horse: An American Metaphor

Today is Independence Day, a time when we celebrate America’s existence as both a sovereign country and an ideal. And I am thinking about what I always think about; horses, the animals that made America great.

This recollection is different, way different I think because it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to look over the land and recognize it as the one most of us old horseplayers grew up in.

I’m thinking about the horses that still run wild and free out west and how their existence in under attack in modern day America. I think about those equines that helped conquer the west, so that our borders may extend from sea to shining sea.

I’m thinking about the horses who helped us win wars, including wars of our own choosing because of the immorality of slavery, a way of life in half the country, should be no more.

And I’m thinking about a spirited rider-less steed, the iconic Black Jack, who led the procession for an assassinated President who reminded us that “this nation was founded on the principle that all men are created equal.”

And that “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” It just doesn’t get more American than that.

I’m thinking about all the horses that were but no longer are part of the landscape of a recognizable America, race horses that symbolize the spirit of competition, a sport that was organized five centuries ago.

I’m thinking about horse racing history in America on this historic day of declarative independence, how it all began on the Plains of Hempstead in 1665 when the first race meet in this country was supervised by New York’s colonial governor.

The Hempstead Plains is the modern day region where Westbury and Garden City collide, not far from Belmont Park where today’s listed Manila Stakes for three year old turf milers will replace the middle jewel of a once celebrated handicap triple crown, the Suburban.

But the Suburban will be run, but not until Saturday, which is fine, but Gov. Nicholls, under whose aegis the first race meet was conducted, is replaced by a present day Governor who acts as if he hates horse racing, and that’s not very American.

So at a time when we remember celebrating horse racing on the Fourth of July, I’m one week removed from reading about the trial of a trainer from a nearby state, a state like so many others that used horse racing as entrée into lottery and other forms of gaming.

In this trial, at least two trainers and four veterinarians testified that therapeutic medications were illegally administered on race-day by “95 to 98 percent of the trainers at the racetrack [Penn National].”

Also acknowledged was how medication requests by trainers were back-dated by veterinarians, drugs misbranded, espionage that helped the guilty beat the testers and how samples from different horses were combined to obfuscate the findings.

The takeaway from the story is that the testing system in place was gamed by racing’s practitioners. Further, the trainers and vets testified that electrical devices were in wide use at that track, “just like at every racetrack in America.”

Now that state, like the other racing jurisdictions that helped grandfather slots and the like into law, is looking for ways to renege on its compact with a sport that has become a niche activity in the minds of today’s culture that widely considers racing a relic.

Like most everything in today’s one-off society, tradition is discarded in the name of progress, just another word for commerce. Like every horseplayer and racing practitioner that lives in the real world, raceday medication eventually will sound the death knell.

The realities associated with latter-day horse racing has effected the way horseplayers handicap and bet their money, how horsemen place their horses, avoiding certain races when they think that trying to defeat horses conditioned by super-trainers is a futile ask.

The times, they are no longer changin’. They have already changed and will continue to do so beyond recognition of the ideals and institutions made America, and a sport, great in the first place.

Americans and horseplayers with common sense should root, root, root for the home team; the institutions and check-and-balance procedures that attempt to level a playing field for all.

It’s fine that rich and powerful have edges the masses don’t enjoy, but the shame of it is that too much never seems to be enough. Boundaries and rhetoric that has been stretched beyond reasonable limits, in all things, are no more.

There is much evidence to suggest American norms have eroded and are continuing spiraling downward.

Racetrackers are fond of saying that no man is bigger than the game, just as the Founders believed no man is greater than the ideals upon which a nation was built. Now both institutions are under attack and never believe that the unthinkable can’t happen here.

The latest polls show that of the 36 richest countries in the world, America is the only one lacking universal health care. It’s the only issue that all Americans seem to agree on anymore, partisans notwithstanding.

It is America’s middle class--the ever-shrinking majority of every stripe and color—that remains under attack daily by the power elite because they have succeeded in pitting America vs. Americans. And recalls what happens to a house divided against itself.

In politics, present-day attitudes are a distortion of how Americans are supposed to treat each other. The philosophy was advanced and popularized by a novelist by a Russian born and educated American, Ayn Rand.

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed,” said Frederick Douglass.

What moves me this Independence Day are the lyrics of a ballad penned by one of America’s great blues guitarist and lyricist, Albert Castiglia, born of a Cuban mother and Italian father in New York City, 1969.

Castiglia prides himself on writing from his heart. To wit:

“What’s this world coming to when kindness has become a crime?
And you don’t answer when your brother needs a dime…
Can someone answer this simple question for me
Who are the brave, Where are the free?
“It’s a cold, cold feeling when you walk down the street
Without noticing the sadness at your feet.
It seems okay, if you’re a stray without a bone
But you’re looked down upon, if you’re a man without a home.
“Why can’t we make it, how can we survive?
It’s hard work every day just trying to stay alive,
But we won’t give up, we won’t bend and we won’t bow…
And I know we’re gonna make it somehow
“What’s this world coming to when you don’t see children smile,
When a woman’s frowned upon for trying to feed a child.
Take a look around, tell me what you see,
Look in the mirror, are you brave, are you free?
“Time to pay attention to your fellow man indeed
Time for sharing and caring…planting love’s seed.
Pray for a better… for your children and for mine,
Pray we find the answer while we still have some time…
“The hungry get blamed for the hunger,
The poor get stuck with the bill.
The weight of the world is on our shoulders,
It’s enough to challenge our will...
Yeah, but I know we’re gonna’ make it somehow…
And I know we’re gonna make it… somehow.”

Written by John Pricci

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