Lately I’ve had horses in my head, mostly made of wood (the horses, not my head), painted in vivid colors, and engineered to prance counter-clockwise in a circle. The track at Belmont Park is an oval, not a circle, but like carousel horses the thoroughbreds run counter-clockwise, just as they do in every other racetrack in the United States. Before the American Revolution, racing in the Colonies was clockwise to conform to the practice in the mother country. I’ve read that our change of direction was meant as a deliberate expression of our independence. In England most of the racetracks are still clockwise, but a few now copy our habit of racing against the clock.
I thought of all this Saturday as I was sipping my manhattan and watching the pre-race coverage of the Belmont Stakes. Although I have never ridden a horse, I love horse racing and have been to races at Saratoga and Canandaigua and at tracks in California and Dublin. According to the Chinese calendar, I was born in the Year of the Horse or, more accurately, the year Wu (Horse). I first heard of the Chinese calendar when I lived in San Francisco in the late 60s and early 70s. The calendar is very complicated and I won’t pretend to understand it, but I believe the twelve animals used to indicate the years are technically part of the Chinese Zodiac. Every year has an animal assigned to it, and at the end of twelve years they start all over again. I remember going to Grant Avenue to watch the magnificent parade held each year to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The parade would feature an assortment of floats and marching bands, but the finale would always be the many-footed dragon that would dance and bob and threaten and delight to the sound of drums and firecrackers. During my time in San Francisco I always lived close enough to Chinatown to spend a lot of time there, and once I had an opportunity to see the dragon up close, although certainly not personal. It was the year I took a course in spinning and weaving; our class was held in the Chinese YWCA, and our instructor had arranged to let us into the gym where the dragon lived in all its glory while it was being assembled and adorned for the big day.
I loved those parades, and I loved the dragon. But am I attracted to the sport of kings because I was born in the Year of the Horse? It’s possible, I suppose. As for the Belmont Stakes, the odds-on favorite, American Pharoah, proved that he was a true descendant of the daughters of the wind by winning the Triple Crown by a splendid margin. I am truly happy!