This past week, we commemorate the passing of a sports legend who regrettably had a brief yet inspiring career. Barbaro, the promising winner of so many bottles of cheap whiskey across America, was laid to rest.
I’ve never really understood horse racing. Well, the obvious points of horse racing are there—expensively maintained expensive horses trot gallantly around in expensive racetracks while men in expensive coats drink expensive gin and tonics to place a $3 bet to show. But I never quite understood the apparent utility of creating this equestrian sport pretty much based on mechanics whose sole purpose is to facilitate some of the most complicated betting arrangements ever devised, the definition and determination of payouts in a sueprfecta being a perfectly reasonable prima facie case for alcoholism. There is also apparently a secret society of horse owners who have a perpetually ongoing standing prank to come up with the most nonsensical names for their horses, evolution apparently passing “Black Beauty” and “Buttermilk” by.
Announcer: Aristophanes’ Sternum is coming around the bend…but Stereotanz Diskotech is coming up right behind…and here comes the Treaty of Westphalia making a surprise push for the win…but it’s Invasion of Granada who goes…all…the…way!
Poor Barbaro had a promising start to his racing career, walking in undefeated when he won the Kentucky Derby. Alas, at the beginning of his attempt to complete the Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes—the horse equivalent of either a Superbowl ring or a bucket of raw carrots—he started off crankily, causing a false start (and, presumably, a 5-yard penalty), and soon broke his leg in three places. Horse surgery is apparently more complicated than horse betting, and even though he was trotting happily about in the stables, eyeing up the mares and ordering Netflix, his doctors pegged his chances of escaping the baseball glove factory at a dismal rate, which immediately was tabled at 5:1 odds.
Something more complicated that horse surgery is horse terminology. At least I think so. Then again, I’m confused by the chain of command on CSI, so what do I know? A foal is a newborn horse, unaware of the life of running incessantly, pulling beer kegs, and “Why the long face?” jokes ahead of him. A colt is a horse known for choking, specifically in the playoffs. A filly is a young female horse waiting to get her first Bratz trapper keeper, so she can be classified as a mare. A stallion never calls the next day. A gelding is a horse that wishes he were dead. A roan is a horse that plays WoW for sixteen hours a day and hasn’t gotten the mail in six weeks.
For the past year, Barbaro has wavered in and out of positive diagnoses, until finally last week he was euthanized and marinated in artificial lamb and chicken flavorings. So ends the rather sad yet briefly glorious tale of one of horseracing’s newest sensations.
Some people have been upset at the coverage that a lame horse has received in the news, when there are much more important things in the world to be reporting, such as the war in Iraq or Tyra Banks’s dinner plate. But as effete almost-sports go, there’s at least some history to the pastime. The legendary Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown, broke the racing records at the Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness, won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (apparently the equestrian equivalent of getting two raspberry Zingers out of the vending machine instead of one), overthrew the government in the Hungarian Revolution, invented the iPod, and sired parts of Sara Jessica Parker, brought horseracing to a respectable level in the eyes of fans and nongamblers alike. Seabiscuit was another famous horse that managed to bring hope and optimism to many during the Great Depression who foolishly thought Father Coughlin or Mussolini might bring it instead. Seabiscuit’s numbers do not even come close to matching Secretariat’s, but a movie was made about him, so he is equally as important. And the cult of the Horse Whisperer has also added to the mystique. A Horse Whisperer is a technical term in horse circles of someone who—well, let’s face it, it’s a nut job who thinks they can talk to horses.
Horse Whisperer: Well, there, Barbaro, how’s that leg treating you?
Barbaro: I am in constant unimaginable pain.
Horse Whisperer: Well you’d better perk up. You want me to send you to the glue factory for a tour? Ha ha!
Horse Whisperer: Don’t you mean NEIGH?
Barbaro: It’s unbearable! My legs are aching.
Horse Whisperer: Awww. Let me ask you something. Why the long face?
Barbaro: Please kill me now. Please.
Some people may disagree with that definition, but those people are 12-year-old girls who tend towards the Catherine the Greatish.
If there’s one thing the sad tale of Barbaro has to tell us, it’s that there is a rather efficient way to deal with those sports heroes whose careers can no longer be salvaged. No doubt Peyton Manning is sleeping with one eye open, for now.