by J.R. Lind
Tradition v. Perdition: It is not an easy time to be a fan of horse racing.
While people still flock to the track — the vices of booze and gambling, no doubt, encourage the gates — the insidious underbelly forever shows itself. Breakdowns and overworked animals, questions about the humanity of using animals as athletes, accusations of doping and sponging, and Thoroughbreds, with centuries of husbandry breeding ever-lighter — and thus thinner — leg bones.
It is not new. Indeed, the greatest piece of sports writing in history was penned about a horse "destroyed" — to use the sanitized euphemism — after a breakdown at Jamaica in 1949.
And the tragedy at the Iroquois Steeplechase was different. This was not a horse who ripped a tendon or shattered a femur or caught heat stroke — it was just in the mid-70s at Warner Park, after all. This was a horse who died, suddenly, struck down by the randomness of an aneurysm.
Arcadius — his name classical — fell just minutes after winning the race and though he raised his head and shook his hoofs, he never rose again. It was a head-scratcher for the doctors and his groom and his jock and all of his humans; like Heinz's piece says, "It always happens to a good-legged horse."
And Arcadius was good Saturday. He bested Tax Ruling, the latest contender who has tried to win the 18-jump, three-mile challenge on Nashville's second May Saturday for a third time. And he is the latest who couldn't do it. Arcadius was better, breezing and stalking and challenging and navigating the fences and the water perfectly, surging late over the final fences and winning without much doubt.
Like Pheidippides, he ran the race of his life. And like Pheidippides he couldn't bask in his glory.
Those who see horse racing as barbaric will no doubt add this to the long list of dead horses, felled for our entertainment. But this wasn't that. This won't be editorial page fodder and it won't chase sponsors, and the talking heads won't have all-caps BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN moments with Arcadius.
His legacy is a win and a clutch of people who may never understand.
The Week Behind
Corbin Family Values: It was not a tough decision for Tim Corbin.
With his daughter in the hospital, the man who hadn't missed a game coaching in 28 years had to do what he'd never done. He raced home from Louisiana to be by her side as she was hospitalized with complications from cancer treatment.
With their coach in Nashville, the 'Dores took the series from LSU in Baton Rouge, climbed back above the crucial .500 mark and qualified for the SEC tournament, and are now positioned to make yet another appearance in the postseason.
Garbage Time: Lafonte Thourogood, the gem of Vandy's 2011 recruiting class, is leaving school. ... The Sounds took three of four from Reno, but at 14-24 are still far back of the league leaders. Percentage points ahead of Memphis, though. ... Former TSU men's hoops coach Nolan Richardson III was found dead in his home. ... 'Drome favorite Ed Temple is a member of more Halls of Fame than you can even name and he'll add one more. ... In case you didn't catch it during one of his umpteen radio spots this week, Phil Fulmer was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on his first try.
Cover Curse? : A couple weeks back, I speculated that perhaps the Titans took wide receiver Kendall Wright in the first round because "maybe [Kenny] Britt isn't progressing from his injury with the speed the team hoped." Whether or not it was the impetus for the pick of the Baylor wideout, Britt indeed did have a second surgery on his knee.
The news breaks just as Kenny graces the cover of this week's Scene Summer Guide. Swimsuit modeling is lucrative if that wheel doesn't come back, at least.
Getting Up And Down: Brandt Snedeker had a helluva time getting to the World Match Play Championships.
The only American in the field of 24 — and looking to be the first Yank to win the title since 1998 — Sneds was on a plane that made an emergency landing when one of his fellow travelers had a heart attack and then, once he arrived, he found his clubs hadn't made the connection, so he had to use a "makeshift set" during the pro-am.
Alls well that ends well: Snedeker (still with the borrowed clubs) cruised in his first round match-up, 5 and 4. Somehow Snedeker's never been part of the US Ryder Cup team and a good showing in the match-play event may put him into consideration.
The Week Ahead
Zoom Zoom: The qualification process for the Indianapolis 500 is as complicated as elections to the Welsh Assembly.
So we'll leave it at this: Hendersonville's Josef Newgarden looks like he has a pretty good chance at competing for the right to gulp some milk on Memorial Day.
The rookie's marked some of the fastest times in practice, which bodes well for Pole Day tomorrow — the first step in the seemingly-never-ending process to set the field.
Middle Tennessee isn't exactly a hotspot for open-wheel racing — related, no doubt, to the fact you can't haul moonshine in one of those things (no trunk); Newgarden is a pioneer: at 21, the first Middle Tennessean to race in the big show at the Brickyard.
Worthless Prediction: Especially worthless as my knowledge of auto racing is shallower than a used spit-cup, but Newgarden's been fast. He'll be in one of the front rows and make noise when it matters.
Hawk Eyes: Vandy opened its season-ending series with Ole Miss last night at Hawkins Field with a path to yet another trip to the postseason opening before them.
With seemingly everyone including superfan Vandy Lance drafted from last year's team which went to Omaha for the first time, the Commodores got off to a slow start with a challenging schedule on the front of the season.
But now, after the wins at LSU, the 'Dores are set to make another stab at vying for the coveted trip to Nebraska. Heading in to the series against the No. 22-ranked Rebels, at 26-25, Vandy needs to win one more than it loses this weekend — and a series-opening shutout Thursday makes that a little easier — and in Hoover at the SEC tournament (of course, the 'Dores could also win the conference title and erase all doubt).
As Jeff Lockridge notes, no SEC team with a winning record overall and in the conference has ever been omitted from the NCAA field (last year, LSU was left out — despite a No. 25 RPI — in part because their conference record was a underwhelming 13-17).
Worthless Prediction: No problems here. Corbin's got 'em ready. The 'Dores will make the tourney field.
In Praise of Phil Fulmer: As an erstwhile Alabama student, I had no love for Phil Fulmer on Saturdays.
In 1999, one of the few blemishes on otherwise pretty-gosh-dern-decent-year for Alabama was a loss in Bryant-Denny to Fulmer's Vols, the Tide repeatedly foiled by the offensive genius of running Tee Martin on a bootleg 4,284 times. I don't remember how UT won in 2000, but since that was the year 'Bama went 3-8 and lost to a Daunte Culpepper-less Central Florida, let's just assume Fulmer outwitted the easily outwitted Mike DuBose.
And like many Alabama folk, Fulmer turning state's evidence on the Tide, leading to the quinquennial probation, stuck in my craw, as if it was Fulmer's fault Alabama cheated.
But Fulmer was a good coach who deserved one more chance — and after the Kiffin kerfuffle, few in orange would disagree.
But more than that: I know Phil Fulmer is a good guy. On Christmas Eve morning 1995, I sat in Sunday School wondering where my friend Eric was. Later, we'd learn that Eric, his brothers Andrew and Brent, and his dad Allen were hit head-on as they were headed for church. Allen and Brent were killed. Eric and Andrew were hospitalized.
The Haags, it should be said, are the biggest UT fans I know and that's saying something. A week after the wreck, Fulmer and Peyton Manning called the still-hospitalized Eric and Andrew. And Fulmer became a huge part of their lives. I may never know what all Fulmer did for them, but it was monumental.
When we graduated, Eric — of course — went to UT and worked as a manager for Fulmer's teams. He works at the university still. Andrew followed in his brother's footsteps. Eric and Andrew are two of the greatest, bravest men I know, and Fulmer was part of that.
In sports, vilifying our opponents is the easy thing to do. Even as fans, we often see coaches as little more than won-loss records and championships won. I've told my share of Fulmer jokes, and he's coaxed more than a few obscenities out of my mouth. But (mostly) it was on Saturdays.
The other six days? Fulmer was a man who helped my friends and he was already a hall of famer.
Drop me a line at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. I need all the help I can get. Listen to 102.5 The Game from 4-5 PM on Tuesdays, too. Maybe I'll explain the Welsh Assembly to you.