This isn’t the sort of place you’d usually find me on a Saturday afternoon (or any other afternoon, for that matter). But here I am, sitting contentedly at a table in the far corner of a Sports Bar and Grill, sipping a Coke and reading the latest edition of “Cook’s” magazine. (In which we discover that driving nails through potatoes does not significantly alter baking time.)
I’ve been here for most of the morning. I watched as barriers were erected in the parking lot and additional tables were set up. The betting window opened and the line grew. People came, but few went. Most (cowboys, bikers, ladies in sun dresses and large hats) took seats around the big screen at the front of the room. All of us were here for a reason: we wanted to see history. We wanted to watch California Chrome take the Triple Crown.
There was bar trivia to kill some of the time. I stunned a friend and won a prize when I correctly responded that only eleven horses had ever won the Triple Crown. I was actually hoping for a slightly more difficult question such as, “When was the last time a horse won the Triple Crown?” Answer: 1978. Or better yet, “Which horse took the last Triple Crown?” (Contrary to popular lore, it wasn’t Secretariat. He won in 1973 and two others have taken the honor since: Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed the following year.)
The post horn blew and I joined the crowd abandoning their chairs for a better view. I took up a seat on the edge of one of the pool tables, just high enough to allow me a clear view over the mass of heads. The race began and I joined everyone (except the drunk in the corner who was cheering very loudly for “NUMBER SEVEN”) in championing California Chrome.
We shouted, pleaded, and begged, but to no avail. A horse racing in New York can’t hear the voices of those watching from the other side of the country. There was a collective groan as Tonalist crossed the line, followed by silent stares as the crowd slowly began to disperse. Instead of becoming the 12th winner of the Triple Crown, California Chrome had become the 22nd near miss.
As I was preparing to leave, a local reporter grabbed me to ask about my day. Was I betting on the race? No. Was I disappointed in the result of the race? Yes. Would I give him an interview? I guess.
He wired me with a mike and asked a few questions, which I had difficult hearing over the noise of the dispersing crowd. Despite this, I heard the final two with perfect clarity.
“Have you watched much horse racing in the past?” he inquired, smiling at me from behind his camera as he filmed footage which aired several times, but which I never managed to see.
“Not much,” I replied.
“Would you watch more after this?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I probably would. It was actually a lot of fun.”
California Chrome is a young horse. There’s always next year. And I’ll probably be back… maybe to watch him become number twelve.