August 7, 2009

Dana Byerly over at Green but Game has an excellent post up regarding the exasperating part of the “Zenyatta vs. Rachel Alexandra” phenomenon, specifically the idea that some fans feel it’s an “either/or” situation when it comes to emotionally supporting one horse or the other. It’s an attitude I just don’t get.

Sports fan dynamics are not new to me—come on, I grew up in Pittsburgh where we loathe fans of the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and just about anyone from Philadelphia. I get regional competitiveness, which certainly is a strong component in the Zenyatta/Rachel saga, made manifest by the greater discussion revolving around the relative merits of synthetic surfaces in California where Zenyatta is based. It’s also not unheard of in the sport of horse racing, as even in the nineteenth century races like the American Derby at Chicago’s Washington Park (and now Arlington) were established on “neutral” ground between East and West to determine champion horses. Some of the best known match races—Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral at Pimlico, Swaps vs. Nashua at Washington Park—were driven by bi-coastal rivalries.

That said, the tone of today’s debate about these two fillies, on chat boards, blogs and even among industry media types, appears more rigid, more hypersensitive. While dissent is human nature, we are taught (lamentably) all too often in terms of black and white—good guys and bad guys are absolutes, and there’s no middle ground or overlap. As an educator, I see this way too often—students find it virtually impossible to understand nuances, multifaceted causes-and-effects that form the “big picture.” It is moreover symptomatic of the polarization so in vogue in American politics and culture in general. Take a position and then be hypercritical of anything or anyone that “threatens” the perceived status quo.

I don’t know the answer to alleviating this mentality, but it’s unproductive. Let’s celebrate both fillies—sure, we can debate the relative merits of each, but until they actually meet face-to-face, what exactly are they competing for besides this truly subjective title “Horse of the Year”? Horse racing fans are few and far between in America as it is—do we really need to perpetuate further divisiveness?

By the way, has anyone considered they could share the title “Horse of the Year” if they don’t actually meet this year—co-honorees? Wouldn’t that build suspense for next year? I know I may be dreaming here, but what I’d love to see is the Mosses and Jess Jackson sit down with a neutral third party and plot out a course of action, or joint campaign for the two, one with enough flexibility that each filly could run at her preferred distances and on her preferred surfaces, yet ensure that they meet head-to-head at least twice before next year’s Breeders’ Cup, barring any unforeseen circumstances.


dana said...

Thanks for the shout out! Indeed exasperating and I've the seen the tone of the argument in some cases well on it's way to town hall style shout downs... very odd and alarming.

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