I live for one day a year, and one day only. Not Christmas, not my birthday, nor Thanksgiving. This day is unfamiliar to most, but it's my holiday. It's my day. Kentucky Derby Day.
Since I was 8 years old, I have followed horse racing. Maybe the word "followed" is putting it lightly. Let me revise that statement. Since I was 8 years old, I have been obsessed with horse-racing.
Facts of my obsession:
1. Each year, Derby Day fell on the day of my high school's prom. Before accepting any invitations from potential dates, they first had to agree that I would be able to watch the race sometime during the prom festivities. (Only high-maintenance when it comes to the Derby. I promise.)
2. Every year I eat spaghetti; it's a good luck tradition for a Triple Crown winner. (Don't ask.)
3. My sister's wedding fell on Belmont Day. Some friends and I disappeared briefly from the reception to watch the race in a neighboring bar—witnessed Rags to Riches beat the boys—and made it back before the YMCA started. (True Story)
4. For my 16th birthday, I did not ask for a car. I asked for a trip to Louisville to explore Churchill Downs for the day. (On that day, I ran into Roy and Pat Chapman, Smarty Jones' owners in the museum. Nicest people I have ever met.)
5. Each Derby Day, I am up by 6 a.m., watching ESPN's "Breakfast at Churchill" and the replays of Secretariat on ESPN Classic.
6. I cried for days after Smarty Jones lost the Belmont Stakes.
7. I can recite all the Triple Crowns winners, names, and dates—and the last couple decades of Derby winners
8. I often am found at home watching TVG (24-hour horse racing network) and making bets with myself.
9. I collect dirt from various tracks. (Promise I am not crazy. Really.)
Hopefully, your eyes did not glaze over at the mention of the word "horse racing." The average person knows little about the sport—even those who have aspirations of being sports columnists.
But why is that?
I know that even in the heights of my own personal obsession, following horse racing has not been easy. I will be completely honest: no media, no advertisement nor headline story on Google News is helping me follow the sport.
It's not your fault that you do not like horse racing.
The blame should go to the media.
The second-rate quality of journalists covering the horse racing beat has led the fans to find the sport to be second rate as well (if even rated at all in their list).
The coverage of the sport is minimal. Pick up a paper prior to the Breeders' Cup World Championships and read the brief sentences dedicated to informing you about the sport. How can an international event be reduced to a few inches in a newspaper?
When it is covered, often poor or false information seeps through. How can you attract new fans when you are losing your faithful supporters? Its an impossible act.
And when the supposed horse racing analysts stumble through the broadcast, because "no one is listening anyways," I lose faith in what will come to the Sport of Kings.
Horse racing once carried our nation through the Great Depression with a small horse named Seabiscuit. During the Watergate scandal, countless images could have claimed the cover photo on Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and Newsweek—yet it was Secretariat who shined on the front page. It was then when the story was no longer on a sex scandal, but a four-legged athlete instead.
I worry about the fate of the sport. I worry the stories that will go unheard. I worry over the idea that if someone who has followed horse-racing for more than 10 years is having trouble staying afloat on the news surrounding the sport, how will the industry ever survive?
I cannot explain how I fell in love with the sport, nor what motivated me to memorize the winners on the back of my first collectible Derby glass. It just happened. But my passion for horse racing has been sustained with the help of the few eloquent, story-telling pieces of journalism I stumbled across.
Let us shape up our act as journalists so that you can experience the truth of one of the best kept secrets in sports.
So for now, I'm truly sorry. For the both of us.
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