Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Toning Down the Skepticism over Greatness

After two eye-opening performances at Royal Ascot a few weeks ago, the word "Great" was thrown around more than ever when it came to Frankel and Black Caviar, but for two very different reasons.

Frankel's performance in the first race of the Royal Ascot meet caught everyone's attention when he romped home 11 lengths in front to keep his unbeaten streak alive. The race once again started up the "greatest horse in the world" chant that accompanies almost all of his victories.

Black Caviar's performance on the last day of the meet also caught the attention of the world but in a very different way. Unlike Frankel, who had it his own way the entire race, Australia's Superwoman not only had to overcome a ship from Australia and a total change in seasons, she also had to overcome her jockey's bad ride.

After this, both horses were called "great", which in my estimation is a good title for them. But in this age of calling everything "great", what is the true meaning of the word?

The three definitions that fit racehorses on dictionary.com are as follows:
1. unusual or considerable in degree, power, intensity, etc.
2. wonderful; first-rate; very good
3. being such in an extreme or notable degree
Both of which the examples above (and other recent "greats") follow. I do understand the outcry of skepticism that comes every time a horse is considered "great", especially if they are currently racing, but there comes a point where the skepticism has to be brought down a notch.
It is true that we are in a different era and horses race a lot differently. No longer are you going to see horses racing 60 times at the top levels or racing two times in four days (although, you may see this in some countries). But considering if a horse is great shouldn't be based on how many starts they make in their career or what surface they race on (a knock that I have seen made against Frankel). 
Instead, the impressiveness of their feats should be considered.
Many of the "greats" that stick out in the minds of people years after they retire are the ones that we also considered great while racing. Horses such as Spectacular Bid aren't remembered for winning the Triple Crown (something he missed) or making a ton of starts (however, the horse did make 30 starts in his career), they are remembered because of all the feats they pulled off, even over 30 years after they retired.
Going for more recent examples, nearly everyone still remembers Curlin and Cigar, even though they haven't been seen on a track in years. These horses also aren't remembered because they ran and won over multiple distances but just because they were great at what they did, something that was pointed out when they were still racing.
While the overall body of work is important in determining if most horses really are great, and taking time away from the animals after they retire is almost mandatory to truly rank them, skepticism over greatness when a horse is racing isn't always needed. 

Because whether it be dominating a field of tough horses by 11 lengths or having to rebreak because they were miscued by their jockey, the truly great ones earn their title while still on the track.

And for those that prove in the end that they may be a little overrated in the end... just sit back and enjoy the racing show. You never know when a freak performance will show up again.

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