Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Flowers in My Hair

Yes, I was recently on the left coast, yes, in San Franciso, and, yes, I did hum a few bars of Scott McKenzie's song as I boarded the BART. In the absence of live racing at the Big A, I took the opportunity to visit the American Geophysical Union convention, the largest gathering of earth and planetary scientists in the world, some 15,000 of them.
This is the time of year the Moscone Center becomes very scientific. I know this because I read the bulletin boards and the posters put up by researchers. Back when I was in college, bulletin boards announced things like dances and concerts and posters told you where to meet to overthrow the United States govenment.
The first poster I saw at AGU had the following posted on it: Predictability and Uncertainties in Geophysics: from the Butterfly Effect to Ensemble Predictions, Multifractal Predictability and the Anthropocene.
As a non scientific person, I wasn't sure whether it was legal to even be looking at that poster, so I folded my notebad and headed over to the big meeting room, where for the next five days, from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., geologists, astronomers, meteorologists and seismologists came together to share their work over the past year.
I listened to an impassioned presentation from Jim Hansen, father of the global warming movement, re-evaluating the evidence given by the IPYY and urging a real cutback in CO2 emissions -- NOW. I listened to a professor from Queensborough Community College explaining how to make an introductory course in meteorology relevant to the minority students his college serves. I listened to a polar researcher celebrating that, after decades, an artic exploration ship is finally on the verge of being built.
My mind reeling, I went back and tracked down Daniel J.M. Schertzer, Universite Paris-Est Ecole des Ponts ParisTech CEREVE, whose research centered on "Predictability and Uncertainties in Geophysics: from the Butterfly Effect to Ensemble Predictions, Multifractal Predictability and the Anthropocene." I asked Prof. Scherzer if there was any liklihood his research could have an impact on human life in the next five years or so, and he said no. But that there might be, soon.
This is good enough for me. I definitely think we ought to continue to fund science research that is subsequently presented in cities with great microbreweries, and who knows, in the next ten years or so, they might get around to discovering horse racing.
At least if I have anything to do with it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Who Wants to be a Jockey?

In a wide-ranging conversation with Richard Migliore the other day (Breeders' Cup, kids growing up too fast, John Kimmel, the cost of college, weight, weather, and so on), one thing that was touched on was the tough job of attracting new fans to the sport of horse racing.
"I hear a lot about 'Let's promote the jockeys'," Mig said, "but the truth of the matter is, not many people can relate to what jockeys do."
"You're right," I said. "Most of the people I know have thrown a football or played baseball or softball or bounced a basketball. And everyone who's driven a car can relate to a NASCAR driver in some way, shape or form. But riding horse races? Most young people I know have never been on a horse."
"And even for those who have, wanting to go as fast as you can and finish first is different," he said. "When I was growing up, I rode races on ponies with my friends. I wanted wear the white pants and the black boots and the silks. I wanted to be a jockey."
I never did. Want to be a jockey, that is. As horse-crazy as I was growing up, I never made the connection between what I was doing during my weekly riding lessons and what was going on at Aqueduct via my parents' little black-and-white television set. I found the stories about Thoroughbreds in the anthologies of horse stories I devoured to be dull, because they were always fromt the point of view of a groom or a trainer or an owner, who were always standing on the ground, and to me, the whole point was being on the back of a horse. (Paying $5 for the privilege of going around and around a paddock on a old quarter-horse for an hour was as close to heaven as I got.)
Now, if someone had told me, as someone once told NYRA paddock host (and former exercise rider) Jan Rushton, that there were places where you could not only ride horses for free but get paid to do it, things might have been different. If there had been someone around like Maylan Studart or Jackie Davis when I was growing up, it might have been really different. It wasn't until I was older and actually began working with Thoroughbreds that I totally fell in love and began writing about them.
People make connections to horses in a lot of different ways. At Churchill Downs, John Asher once told racecaller Tom Durkin he believed that if you could just get someone to touch a racehorse, they'd be hooked.
I know it worked for me.