Photo: Churchill Downs / Reed Palmer
The Maryland Jockey Club made a nice gesture in replicating
the mistake of its Triple Crown sister track, Churchill Downs, when it
purposely misspelled the Derby winner, California Chrome’s name on his
saddlecloth. Horsemen saddling their fortunes to four-legged creatures more apt
to jump a shadow or mysteriously become lame, than win a race, are prone to feel
superstitious for all the right reasons.
What harm is there in walking around, rather than under a
ladder or wearing the same underwear two, three, nine or however many times in a row if your horse wins a race? While the practical answer is, “none,” the reality is
we, humans, delude ourselves in thinking we hold powers of persuasion over
outcomes that are certainly out of our control.
A rally cap, “terrible” towel or an arena entirely filled with white t-shirt wearing spectators are some recent examples of a collective
fandom trying to influence their teams. On an individual level, yours truly, a
Red Sox fan from birth, tried to exercise the demons of Yankees past in the 2004
playoffs by rolling out all my old pinstriped baseball cards -Piniella, Lyle
and Dent - once the Sox where down three games to zero. My rationale was to implore
the baseball gods to reverse a century’s worth of curse. We all know how this
turned out (smiles to himself whilst writing).
The essential question here is: did my dusting off those two-dimensional
Yankees, that soured my autumnal youth year after year, inspire the historic
comeback? It helped me feel better, but incantations aside, my personal
universe had no effect in helping Dave Roberts steal second base, or the Sox winning four straight. And what about the next two Sox World Series wins?
I was superstition-free.
So whether or not California Chrome wins or loses on May 17, is more about the three-year-old’s ability to bounce back just two weeks off
his Derby effort, than how his name is spelled on a saddlecloth. If California
Chrome regresses too much, and a challenger is ready for a lifetime effort, than
he’ll lose. If you think like me, it will take some unusual event like
California Chrome tossing his jockey to get in the way of him winning.
With indifference toward misspellings, misgivings or superstition, the Preakness is coming, so toss on your purple socks and stay away from black
cats, neither one will actually effect the race.