It’s rare for a pure sports story to dominate the above-the-fold space of a newspaper’s page one, except in the New York tabloids, or to lead the first block of a television newscast, except on the all-sports channels.
A pure sports story, not the tug-of-war over an arena or the hateful and racist comments of a franchise owner.
A pure sports story about winning and losing, a story that reflects the unconquerable spirit and skill of an individual or of a team, a story that lifts our hearts. We have read them before: The Giants win the World Series, the 49ers or the Raiders snatch the Super Bowl trophy.
Or, more lately, California Chrome, a stepchild in the sport of kings and sheiks and just ordinary multimillionaires, wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, a male version of Cinderella.
And what a tale it will be if he wins the Belmont, an $8,000 California-bred Triple Crown champion, owned by two guys, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, who get up every morning and go to work, seemingly unchanged by their instant celebrity.
California Chrome already is a superstar who has looked down his nose, nasal strip and all, at the bluebloods of horse racing. Remind you of anybody?
Remember Seabiscuit? For a good while there were some who said he wasn’t worth the hay they were feeding him, even though he was a descendent of the great Man o’ War. Kind of like the groom who said anybody who bought Chrome’s mom, Love The Chase, was “a dumb ass.” If only we were all so dumb.
Seabiscuit thrilled the nation in the midst of the Great Depression, as chronicled so beautifully in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller on the little horse with the stumpy legs and unbelievable courage.
In 1938, when Seabiscuit was at his peak, he got more ink in the press than President Franklin Roosevelt. That was the year Seabiscuit easily dispatched a Triple Crown champ, the elegant War Admiral, in their historic match race, a blue-collar victory over the aristocrats of the sport.
There was no television, so people crowded around their radios to listen to the broadcast of the race and then grabbed their newspapers to relive it all over again. Seabiscuit provided a much-needed break in the bleakness of their existence. Just imagine if the Internet and social media had been around in his day. Twitter and Facebook would have been swamped.
But the public couldn’t have loved him anymore than they did; especially those who think of the bugle call to the post as the best piece of music ever composed.
A good friend and former colleague, the late Dave Feldman, a lovable character right out of the pages of a Damon Runyon story, wrote about horse racing in Chicago for decades. He also trained and owned thoroughbreds. He labeled himself and his readers Broken-Down Horseplayers. How would one describe a BDHer?
Let’s examine one encounter in Dave’s life and that might suffice as a proper answer.
Dave, whose last healthy meal was about one week after birth, learned he had blockage in his heart arteries when he was in his fresh 60s. A friend arranged a consultation for him at the famed Cleveland Clinic. And he soon found himself sitting across from one of the clinic’s best-known surgeons.
“What are my odds to come out of this surgery OK?” Dave asked.
“Well,” the doctor replied, “our success rate is 98 to 99 percent.”
“That’s good,” Dave retorted, “But that’s not what I mean. I want to know what are my odds? Am I 5 to 2, 8 to 5, or 10 to 1 to survive?”
The real odds were actually shorter than Chrome’s $3 Preakness payoff. He not only survived, he lived large for another 20-plus years and wrote a book titled “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda,” named for the anthem of almost everyone who goes to the betting windows.
Dave would have loved California Chrome and would have embraced his back-story with joy, as millions of others have done.
Now those millions, BDHers and casual fans alike, especially those of us in California, are yearning for a Page 1 headline after the Belmont: Chrome Brings It Home.
That will be a pure sports story.
Gregory Favre is the retired executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and vice president of news for The McClatchy Company.