Two recent well-received and highly personal posts/articles by Joe Nevills of Daily Racing Form and Emily White of horseracingnation.com highlight the benefits of small-time racing in the biggest possible way: as the entryway into a lifetime love affair with the sport. For Nevills, the venues were Mount Pleasant Meadows and Great Lakes Downs in Michigan where he was introduced to racing as a child; for White, the locale is Horseman’s Park in Nebraska, where she, too, as a child frequented the track which opened in 1998 after the closing of Ak-Sar-Ben. There are so many others like them—me included—who were indelibly stamped at a young age after witnessing close-up the allure of horses racing against one another, and for us it didn’t matter much that what we saw were cheap claimers instead of world champions.
In fact, Nevills’s article is about chasing the ghost of his grandfather’s claimer Royal Charley. He writes:
“Something about that performance resonated in a way that transformed me from someone who followed the sport because my grandpa’s name was in the program into something more.
“From that point on, I was rarely without an old racing program, breaking down Charley’s performances and sizing up future opponents when others my age might have been participating in other normal, healthy social activities.
“Charley’s racing career also came at a time when many young people’s lives start to pick up a lot of moving parts, and mine was no different. The transition from high school to college came with an ever-shifting cast of new faces and messy fallings out that left me seeking a sense of belonging that I wasn’t finding in university life.
“In Charley, I had my escape – my distraction from the monotony of long-winded lectures, the anxiety of keeping my grades up, and the unanimous chorus line of rejection from girls who had little use for an awkward, burgeoning racetrack degenerate with long hair. Win or lose, the horse was something consistent, and that felt good.”
I recently wrote in North American Trainer magazine about this, too; about how small tracks grow the sport from the bottom up, and how they are a vital part of the racing ecosystem.
White puts it better than I did. She wrote:
“Small-scale racing is held under scrutiny by many in the industry. The small purses and slow race times cannot possibly compare to the grandiose spectacle of a Saratoga or a Santa Anita. But bullrings like Horsemen’s Park are where the little guys can have a say in things; where underachieving sons and daughters of Tapit or Distorted Humor can succeed; where the community can gather in a tiny setting to enjoy food, music, and gambling.
“The basic soul of racing – a soul that we’ve all fallen in love with – remains even in its lowest levels.”
Click here to read White’s article.
Click here to read Nevills’s piece.
Click here to read my commentary, on Page 96.