Volume 12, Issue 21 ~ May 20-26, 2004
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Smarty Jones Teaches a Lesson

Smarty Jones’ couldn’t have made his lesson clearer in his adrenelin-hot win at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore last Saturday.

But decisive clarity was needed.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich was at Pimlico for the 129th running of the Preakness to see Smarty’s lesson with his own eyes. On hand, too, were racing kingpin Nick DeFrancis and many of his cadre who cry that slots are the cure for Maryland’s horse-racing woes. But the Maryland General Assembly, their three-month session ended, had scattered to the far corners of the state, where they might have missed seeing Smarty’s lesson even on television.

So he had better write his lesson large.

Eleven and a half lengths should be big enough for all to see, even if only in the racing reporters’ echoing roars.

Horse racing, Smarty showed us, has all the right stuff. It doesn’t need slot machines to climb back to the big leagues of Maryland sport.

Horse racing’s got pros: finely tuned athletes of not one species but two: horse and rider both at the pinnacle of prowess and physical conditioning. Though the horses seem to be doing all the work, jockeys play a most dangerous and demanding game in merging body, mind and will with a thousand flying pounds — in close quarters and competition with many more thousands of pounds.

Horse racing’s got beauty. Racehorses tie with boxers and ballerinas as the favorite athlete of artists.

Horse racing’s got story. Each horse has its story, and if it’s not Seabiscuit, it’s pretty good, as Maryland’s Magic Weisner showed us in nearly winning the Preakness two years ago only to come down with dread West Nile in the Belmont stables.

Not only each horse but each jockey, each trainer, each owner, each stable hand, each groom, each hotwalker has a story.

Horse racing’s got drama: Each race has a beginning, a middle and an end, and each segment is fraught with heart-thumping competition as horses with different strengths show their stuff. Finally, one champion prevails, often with a breath-taking stroke of genius. Witness Smarty’s accelerating gallop past Lion Heart and despite Rock Hard Ten to run away with the race.

Such margins for such stakes are rare thrills, but dramatic finishes are the stuff racing is made of. Horses and jockeys unite their wills and wiles to win every 30 minutes in a four-hour day of racing.

Horse racing, thus, offers spectators a finely keyed intermittent reinforcement schedule. You lose most times, but you win some — and you get another chance every half hour.

That’s the same pattern that addicts players to slot machines. If it’s a little slower — with time to anticipate, celebrate, savor, make a new bet, grab a bite to eat and stop by the necessary — it’s got compensatory thrills. During the minute or two the horses race, so does your heart. Who needs slots?

That’s Smarty Jones’ lesson.

About all horse racing doesn’t have, he showed us, is the will to win.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 20, 2004 @ 12:47am.