Headshots: Thoroughbred Racing, Not Just for Horses

THIS COMING WEEKEND is the famed Kentucky Derby, known as the “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports”, excluding sex with Rick Pitino. The Derby is the jewel of the Triple Crown (along with the Preakness and Belmont Stakes) and is the premiere horseracing event of the year, a chance for three-year-old thoroughbred horses to run themselves to the brink of death, only to be rewarded with the same molded carrots awarded to the last-place finisher, before eventually being ground up and made into glue and Korean appetizers. The event is a gala affair, filled with pomp and pageantry not usually seen in the United States, and especially Kentucky where a mandatory pants-in-public law was just passed three years ago.

But what do we make of horse racing in general? What is it really? You strap an bulimic midget to the back of a horse, ring a bell, and try and make some money off the whole deal? It all seems quite odd.

Then, as we were racing our editors around the cubicles in order to kill off a Friday afternoon, it occurred to us that it was peculiar that there were no other prominent animal racing circuits in the United States, with the exception of the occasional dog track or Republican primary. So as an unpaid summer intern riding a copy editor trotted to an office derby win, Headshots sat down to suggest other ways in which we can race animals.

1. Monkeys Racing Llamas

Monkeys have been riding animals every since some Swiss family got shipwrecked in the late 1700s. But, for some reason, the sport never took off in the US. Llamas are very friendly animals, and yet with a strange social hierarchy they are prone to fits of agitation and violent rage. So why not strap a Nicaraguan spider monkey on the back of a pissed off alpaca, and throw ‘em out into Churchill Downs and see what happens? I’ve got 5-to-2 odds on good times!

2. Lions, Tigers, Bears. Oh, my.

What has always confused me about horseracing is the considerable lack of violence. I mean, if a football player gets frustrated during a loss, a fight often breaks out. So why not in animal racing? I say we grab us some midget extras from Game of Thrones, find a zoo going out of business, procure some lions, and tigers, and bears and the like, and just let shit happen. It would be like Roman gladiators meets greyhound racing meets Saw IV. Just think of the merchandising possibilities: Plush toys and fresh tiger steaks.

3. Dolphins

It is a testament to the failure of humanity that we have yet to find a way to race stuff underwater. Like, in cartoons people were always racing sea horses. Why hasn’t this become a thing yet? If we can get dolphins to talk, and jump through flaming hoops at Sea World, and star in Hollywood feature films, surely we can find a way to get a jockey in a wet suit on the back of one, and race it in an underwater oval. Consider, for a moment, how amazing the actual race course would be. And the photo moments of the dolphins winning, and jumping up above the surface? Priceless. And, given their propensity for speech, I’m sure the post race interviews would be very revealing.

4. Babies on Shetland Ponies

Shetland ponies are hardy hybrid pony, bred in the subarctic archipelago of Scotland. They’re smart, they’re intelligent, often used in place of guide dogs, and are popularly ridden by small children at horse shows. Why not marry those affections, duct tape some babies on these Scot equine midgets, get them out on a track, and lay down some serious coin on the deal? The whole thing would be adorable, and a way to finally monetize on those ugly tots who can’t cut it in preschool/showbiz.

5. Hipsters

I know hipsters are everyone’s favourite punchline. But they’re spreading faster than AIDS at a 1985 gay gorilla orgy, and frankly most of them are either unemployed or writers, and usually both. If we don’t do something about the hipsters soon, HBO may renew Girls for a third season. So we at Headshots believe it’s time to head down to Williamsburg, wrangle us up some mustache sporting, petulant crafters, get them real drunk on Pabst and rice wine vinegar, and make them run around a course chasing an Arcade Fire b-side wrapped in a purple cardigan and rolled up with an MFA diploma.

Hell, let the girl hipsters jockey the boy hipsters, and give them copies of Vice to use as crops. The winners get a development deal at Showtime, the losers get sent back to their parents’ basements in the Midwest, and we ride lost trifecta tickets to fortune and fame.

Mike Spry is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. His most recent work is Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011).

Illustration by Lasse Mathiesen Køhlert. Check out the Danish artist’s work here and here.

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