By Jason Keidel
If the sport is lucky, we Americans are pulled en masse to a television three times a year to watch horse racing. The Kentucky Derby is assured, as it’s more than a race, or even an event.
To those of us who live in cold climes, the Derby is more than a montage of bonnets and mint juleps. It’s about the change of seasons, the snow melting from our streets, shelving our shovels, and the first foliage popping pink at your local park.
Then we lose interest until or unless the same horse wins the Preakness.
Which is exactly what happened here. American Pharoah, the stud with the oddly spelled name, a mile and a half from history. The most heralded horse in the nation will be in New York tomorrow. And we need it.
And by “we” I mean New Yorkers. The five boroughs have been a sports wasteland for some time.
The Knicks just came off their worst season in franchise history, which is saying a lot considering how historically inept they’ve been the last decade. The Brooklyn Nets are treated like they’re still in New Jersey.
The Jets have just endured their nth regime shakeup over the last 20 years. The Mets haven’t won a title since 1986. And while the Yankees are painted in dynastic tones, they have won just one World Series in 15 years.
The Giants are the only local team to hold in some esteem, with two titles since 2007. And even they are coming off two lousy seasons, with coach Tom Coughlin coming within a whisker of losing his job.
We relied on the Rangers, a team from a fringe sport, to give us any hope, and they lost at home, in Game 7, where they allegedly never lose.
We’ve surrendered the back page and the bold ink to Boston, our blood rivals, for the last decade, which is the sports equivalent of Red Russia breaching our shores. While we can get a slight kick out of DeflateGate, Tom Brady still has four Lombardi Trophies, while the Jets haven’t won since Joe Namath brought the AFL and NFL forever together in 1969.
We can’t even bank on humans for hope. We need four legs to do what creatures on two could not – get us thinking about immortality.
The Triple Crown is always crowned in New York, of course, at Belmont – a crumbling, overcrowded edifice (built in 1905) that slaps some lipstick on every June to get the tourist dollar. And only when a horse has bagged the first two legs of the holy trinity does anyone turn to NBC with any fervor the first Saturday in June.
Most of us know nothing about the Sport of Kings, other than we’ve waited since 1978 to see a stud cross the finish line with history at its back, when Affirmed did so.
I vaguely remember Seattle Slew and Affirmed. I was four when Secretariat became the equine beast nonpareil. So it’s time for some creature to remind us why we watch.
Lord knows, New York City has nothing else going on.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.