Topic: "Ode to an Athlete (2)"
There were two horse race tracks in or near the City of Orleans. When racing was "on" at The Fairgrounds, it was quiet at Jefferson Downs, and vice versa.
Frodo had always had a fondness for the pageantry and the excitement of horse racing. It stemmed from the days when he and the other infant Hobbits would sit in the shade of the trees that lined the parking lot overlooking the far turn of the track at Charles Town. Frodo's grandmother would sit while the adult Hobbits went to "play the daily double" in an area where infant Hobbits were not allowed. Although she would never allow herself to bet, Frodo can remember the uncanny ability that she seemed to have in selecting the winning horse.
"Never bet on a gray horse, never bet on a filly, and always look for the horse with the longest legs and the slimmest body," she summarized for Frodo. Over time, Frodo learned that things like the length of the track, the jockey, the track conditions, the history of the horse, and so on, would have a significant impact on the outcome of the race. Still, he avoids the gray, has rarely selected a filly, and those long legs have always been tempting to Frodo.
Sam was out of town, and the canines of the time, Prissy and Gumbo, were occupied with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads when Frodo left to spend a few hours at Jefferson Downs. After seven races Frodo was pretty bored, and was about to head for home. The name of a horse entered in the eighth race caught his eye. "Miss Priss" was an 15-1 shot.
"Hmph," said Frodo, "if Sam were here there would definitely be a bet placed on this horse to win." Frodo's smile turned to interest when he began to examine the facts about the horse in the racing program. It seemed that she ran well on dirt, had done very well against the leading competition paired against her in prior races, did very well on longer races, and had never been beaten when tonight's jockey had been on her back.
"She's a filly," thought Frodo, "just my luck she's an equine Hobbit with a gray complexion." When "Miss Priss" entered on the track, she was clearly the horse with the longest legs. Frodo went to the $5 window and placed a bet "For Sam," he said. For good measure, he doubled the bet for himself.
The $150 which Frodo received for betting on "Miss Priss" had to be shared. On the way home, he stopped his motorcar at the grocery store and purchased a small steak. When he arrived at home, and after allowing Prissy and Gumbo to relieve themselves, he picked up the beagle-dachshund mix and placed a kiss directly on her mouth. She probably went to her grave wondering what exactly had triggered that outburst and the subsequent bed-time treat of juicy meat and bone.
Frodo recalls this story and his fondness for horse racing while he fears for the future of gallant Barbaro, Champion of the Kentucky Derby. Yesterday, while Frodo watched on television, he saw the highly-favored athlete pull up immediately at the starting gate at the Preakness at Pimlico. His back leg was broken in three places, and only the skill of his jockey averted a major disaster for the entire field.
Normally, Barbaro would've been "put down" on the racetrack, in front of everyone, because of the severity of such an injury. The physiology of a horse is such that in the area below the "knee," and above the "ankle," there is no muscle whatsoever. As a result, the flow of blood over multiple fractures is barely negligible. It is painful, and it nearly always results in life-threatening infection and death.
It is entirely understandable that inordinate effort be extended to save the life of a horse who had finished first in each of the six races he had run. The odds are long against Barbaro and the humans who work to save the life of this gifted athlete. Barbaro, believes Frodo, would have voted to accept the challenge. Should he lose, it would not be the result of a deficiency of will or of courage.
In Frodo's Heaven there are dogs, and there are horses. The presence of a soul is found in champions, of all kinds. Barbaro will run again with the wind, and Frodo will be at the pari-mutuel window, with Prissy.