I watched the Tour de France yesterday for the trip up the mountain. The hilly stage was well anticipated as it would show who has the gusto to win the gruelling tour. With about seven kilometres to go, Spain's Alberto Contador, teammate of Lance Armstrong, flicked his wrist and burned rubber, accelerating up the hill like he was going down one. Lance Armstrong, much to the dismay of fans who figured he was a contender, simply could not go with him. Contodor won the stage easily and took the yellow jersey. Armstrong was over a minute behind.
In an interview afterwards, Armstrong said "If someone like Contador shows today, 'Hey, I'm the best,' you have to accept it."
There was no, pardon the acronym, BS. There was no "it is a long race, and I have sponsors, and I have a shot, and I am going to take it day by day, and anything can happen, and I can turn this around, and I was not feeling well, and I had a bunyon". It was just a cold hard realization that "this guy is better than me."
Not long ago in horse racing, when a horse got beat fair and square, all you would hear from the participants was "we got beat by a better horse", and a congratulations. That was that. Now, we see more and more of what we hate to see from athletes - buzzwords, excuses, cliches - to explain getting beat fair and square.
I think this is in response to breeders and selling the horse via the breeding shed. There is so much money at stake that getting beat fair and square any longer is not an option. With millions at stake it makes more sense to embellish the truth, rather than tell the truth, to keep a horses mystique in place.
In addition, we tend to see this embellishment fly right into the face of racings customers. If a horse is 1-9 and should beat a group by ten, but wins under the whip by a head, you will sometimes hear "it was a good win and he did it easily, I was just reminding him he still had to go because he gets lazy" or some such other nonsense. It is clear the horse was not right, any handicapper with even the most rudimentary skill knows the horse was not right, each competitor knows the horse did not race well. Why try to pull the wool over people's eyes? It makes you look ridiculous and you are fooling no one.
Recently we saw Federal Flex race in the final of the Goodtimes. This is a world class trotter capable of big speed. He was on his hands and knees to hold off a horse who is not in his league. After the race there was no "it was a good prep for the Hambo, we are right on schedule" or all the rest. Driver Jody Jamieson said that 'this horse was not right tonight and we have some work to do obviously.'
This was not unlike last year in the Simcoe Stakes, where trainer of Somebeachsomewhere, Brent McGrath, stated after a sub par performance that Beach must have an issue. He was a deer in the headlights seeing his stable star crawl home, as everyone was in the crowd. There was no cliche about "Paul let him come home slow because we have big races coming up" or some other type nonsense. It was a simple cold hard realization that something was amiss, and he had to get the horse home to find out what.
These responses are a breath of fresh air.
It is nice to see some in our sport lose the cliches, and explain what happened honestly to handicappers and viewers, instead of what we see all too often, especially in thoroughbred racing, where in this day and age horses are bred not to race, but to be bred. The aftermath of finger pointing, and pure nonsense in the media after last year's Belmont Stakes probably had a guy like Woody Stephens rolling over in his grave. It was beneath the sport, and it was wrong.
Some consider Lance Armstrong a "jerk" for being so open, and off the cuff. That might or might not be true. But I will take a guy like him who tells me the truth, over someone who feeds me incorrigible cliches ten times out of ten.
Monday, July 20, 2009
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