Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It's a Floor Wax, It's a Dessert Toping...

The annual “Run for the Roses” also known as the Kentucky Derby, took place last week. As usual it was billed as the most exciting two minutes in sports. The question that I have every year is whether Horse Racing qualifies as a sport. There a lot of leisure events these days that seem to qualify as pseudo-sports. ESPN has turned poker in to a national obsession. They are now even showing paintball and obstacle course events. These events clearly fall under the entertainment arm of ESPN which has become like the original orange peg in Trivial Pursuit. That category was sports & leisure. The problem was that when you were expecting a question about baseball, you invariably ended up getting a question about croquet or cards. I don’t particularly have a problem with these events being on TV, but they clearly are not sporting events.

Does an animal running around a track with a man or woman hitting him with a whip qualify as a sport? Does someone driving a car around a track as fast as possible qualify as a sport? Well, let’s see. Driving a car that fast requires great hand/eye coordination, good reflexes, good endurance and good concentration. It clearly requires athletic skills, but is it a sport? I don’t think so. It’s not a sport anymore than flying a jet plane is a sport. The question becomes what is the definition of sport. Does a sport require athletic skill or is it simply the act of competition? If it’s simply the act of competition, then practically everything would qualify as a sport. If it also requires athletic skill then the field becomes somewhat narrowed, so that leads us two our second question. Does the athlete have to rely on his own physical gifts or can the competition be won by superior “machinery”? Clearly in auto sports or horse racing, a superior “machine” can win the day. The best horse/car doesn’t always win, but having the best one certainly doesn’t hurt. So if a car doesn’t qualify as an athlete, why should a horse?

So if horses running around a track doesn’t qualify as a sport and horses aren’t athletes, the other question is, are jockeys athletes? They’re in good shape and they have all the usual assets of athletes, but in reality, they are just holding on. Having athletic ability does not make you an athlete. (It takes a lot of strength to work a jackhammer, but I don’t see those guys competing on TV, although I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before “the Ocho” gets to it). There’s lots of strategy in horse racing. Where to place the horse in the pack, when to make your move, when to use the whip, but at the end of the day, it’s the horse doing all the work. If the jockeys were to get off the horses and run themselves then I guess that would be a sporting event. The only sporting event that takes place at a race track is at the betting window. Have you ever seen people throw away tickets after a loss or jump for joy and sprint to the ticket window after a win? Trust me when I say that there are some Olympian efforts in that group.

I don’t know what the most exciting two minutes in sports are. I guess that depends on your favorite sport. The last two minutes of the close game in the NCAA basketball finals are pretty exciting. So are the last two minutes of a close Super Bowl or NCAA football championship. The last two minutes of any Yankees World Series win are pretty hard to match as far as I’m concerned. The Kentucky Derby has great pomp and circumstance and a wonderful history, but horse racing is just not a sport.




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