In 2017, I spent four days in a Spanish hospital, laid low by pneumonia (my second bout in three years — one of the reasons that my family will not let me go to the grocery store). When I got back home, I was weak for a good six weeks. I spent a lot of time mindlessly channel surfing.
One day I chanced upon Saratoga Live, live coverage of racing from Saratoga. I love horses, and it was amusing — as much for the ads for stallions as anything else. One particularly caught my eye, for a horse called Data Link. “With no Mr. Prospector within four generations, Data Link is perfect for your outcrosses.”
Really, I thought. I know race horses tend to be inbred, but how big a problem could this be? So I kept informally checking pedigrees, and it did seem a lot of horses had Mr. Prospector blood.
I decided that I needed to be more systematic. I made an Excel spreadsheet of every horse that ran in any race the last week of the Saratoga meet, plus the horses that had run in the Triple Crown races, and a couple of Breeder’s Cup races. It came out to over 250 horses. I ran all the pedigrees back four generations. (Yes, it’s geeky. Don’t judge me.)
Something like seventy-five percent of the horses I tracked had Mr. Prospector blood. Wow.
It turned into an obsession — I started watching the races, both at Saratoga and elsewhere, but more interested in the post parade and seeing who the sires are than seeing the actual races. (Tracks are running races without people in the stands.) I am learning which sires turn out turf horses, which ones dirt, which ones sprinters, which ones distance runners. I am learning more about the horses (did you know that turf runners tend to have bigger feet than dirt runners?).
I have fun looking at the horses’ names. My favorite is a horse sired by Freud out of a mare named Plinking — Plink Freud.
I do watch the races, although I speed past all the talking heads going on about each horse’s chances. I don’t particularly care who wins, rooting for 1) a horse I have seen run and that I like, 2) a horse sired by a horse I like (the American Pharoahs turn three this year) or 3) the gray horse. (If there is more than one gray horse, then the prettiest gray horse.)
I don’t bet. I know myself well enough to know that I would run through a lot of money if I did. No, it’s better to just be a spectator.
What the hell, it’s better than binging on Tiger King.