Lamoreaux: Belmont Cause for Celebration, Not Despair
The theories abound, they are limitless really, of the failure for the 35th year in a row to have a Triple Crown winner. They're breeding for speed now — not endurance; the series has too short a time span; the fields are too big; no Thoroughbred has had the “required” three lucky trips.
Okay, those theories all make sense. Knowledgeable racing people — D. Wayne Lukas, “Dinny” Phipps, Steve Cauthen, Bob Baffert — have been heard. But please folks, let us not despair. We have a Belmont Stakes coming up Saturday that celebrates the fitness of the horse, the only time most of them will be asked to run a mile and a half on dirt.
And guess what? We may have the largest field since Caveat beat 14 others 30 years ago, with the Derby winner Orb, and the Preakness winner Oxbow expected to duke it out again. There are even visions of future duels, if both colts stay healthy as the year plays out. And since Orb's owners the Janney/Phipps Stable breeds its own, could we possibly see him on the race track as a four-year-old? That would be huge.
So instead of despair, why not make this the year for a celebration of the Thoroughbred — the year when we look in awe as these finely-tuned animals give their all in the 145th running of the Belmont.
In rummaging through my archives for some suitable wordsmanship for such a celebration, I came upon some television essays from my old colleague at CBS News Heywood Hale Broun, he of the loud jackets, the merry mustache and the metaphorical flourishes as a fixture on the CBS Triple Crown telecasts.
Most of the words have disappeared into the netherworld due to the inability to archive some of these telecasts. But with these scripts, I do have a word-picture, not a picture and words. No Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no U-Tube, just words. Think radio — use your imagination!
In an essay on the 1971 Belmont telecast, Broun wrote, “In his mixture of feathery action and fierce purpose, of delicacy and durability, the race horse is as gloriously improbable as the nightingale and the flying fish. Over a thousand pounds slams down on each fragile leg, on ankles which dancing girls might envy…
“Every part of a race horse reaches forward. He has been bred with a singleness of purpose…He thinks with his blood and if urged will run through the fiery mists of exhaustion…
“Demonstrably and expensively some horses run slower than others, but the fastest faders, denounced by seated humans as quitters, are still running hard. It is simply that the cold hands of weariness have squeezed the spring from their ankles and shortened the stride.
“Winners carry to the end the confident forwardness which does not consider defeat, but winners and losers alike retain the classic beauty which is the ornament of complete commitment.”
For the most part, Woodie Broun, who made his first wager at Saratoga before he was a teenager, was a sentimentalist about racing. Secretariat became his idol after winning the Belmont 40 years ago. A picture of the big red horse found its way into his wallet. So, it follows that Woodie was old school when it came to accolades needing to be earned.
“Sociologists speculate,” he wrote in the New York Times,, “that since we have no kings and queens in America, no monarchs and their attendant train of hereditary nobility, we delight in the transitory aristocracy of celebrity. There is hardly a profession that does not have its hall of fame and it is a deprived home that does not have a silver or gold plastic trophy denoting championship. MIne, a man holding a laurel chaplet, is for winning a jingle singing contest.
“It is logical therefore that racing, presumed to have been created for the amusement of kings when Etruscan rulers laid out the first race track in about the seventh century B.C., give or take a year — a legend which is hard to confirm since there are no acknowledged Etruscans to confirm it — should be the game which is chary about handing out crowns.”
“They're running another Belmont soon,” Broun wrote in the New York Times 20 years after Secretariat's Triple Crown, “and as the ordinary horses strive for this crown, some of us will see a white-bridled big red ghost with a little blue-and-white man on his back. When the real horses hit the far turn, he will be halfway down the stretch and we will be glad, as we always are, to see him again.”
E.S “Bud” Lamoreaux III is a creator and former executive producer of CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt. He won four Eclipse Awards for national television excellence.