Thor’s Echo, ridden by jockey Corey
Nakatani, crosses the finish line to win
the Sprint race during the Breeders’
Cup at Churchill Downs in Louisville,
Ky., on Nov. 4, 2006. Preceeding page:
Early morning training at the Saratoga
Springs, N. Y. “Seeing them coming around a turn,
especially in a close race, is breathtaking.”
The draw is intellectual, too.
“Each race is different,” Carter says. “You’ve got so
many variables—track conditions, past performances,
different track surfaces. Just trying to figure it out is not
easy at all.”
What it all adds up to is this: Horse racing is a sport
with a healthy number of addicts, and the adrenaline
rush is a natural high that’s tough to beat. Fortunately,
places to get a fix are nearby.
OFF TO THE RACES
About 50,000 races are run each year in the United
States, many in the Northeast Corridor: Suffolk
Downs in Boston; Aqueduct in New York; Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands in New Jersey;
Philadelphia Park; and Delaware Park. But the most
storied tracks are Pimlico, Belmont and Saratoga,
where champions gain their glory and long shots become big shots by beating impossible odds.
The first Saturday in May kicks off the championship season. That’s when the sport’s elite 3-year-olds
make a run for the roses in the Kentucky Derby at
Churchill Downs. Two weeks later, the action shifts
east to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore for the
Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple
Crown. Last year, more than 100,000 people witnessed high drama at the track as Bernardini won
after favorite Barbaro suffered what would become
a fatal injury. Millions more who hadn’t the faintest
interest in horse racing got swept up in Barbaro’s
eight-month battle to survive.
The final leg of the Triple Crown, considered the
true test of champions, is the Belmont Stakes in
Elmont, N. Y. This year’s running is June 9. It’s a
grueling 1½-mile race, versus the 1¼-mile Derby
and the 13⁄16-mile Preakness, and a major reason
why there have been only 11 Triple Crown winners
in more than 100 years. The last to sweep was Affirmed in 1978.