04/15/2010 12:55PM

Sound, Fury, Post Time


While doing research for a column in an upcoming Kentucky Derby Preview publication for Daily Racing Form, I ran across an old friend. It was a piece written by William Faulkner for Sports Illustrated in 1955. He called it "Kentucky: May: Saturday." This is from that:

Once the horse moved man's physical body and his household goods and his articles of commerce from one place to another. Nowadays all it moves is a part or the whole of his bank account, either through betting on it or trying to keep owning and feeding it.

William_faulkner So, in a way, unlike the other animals which he has domesticated--cows and sheep and hogs and chickens and dogs (I don't include cats; man has never tamed cats)--the horse is economically obsolete. Yet it still endures and probably will continue to as long as man himself does, long after the cows and sheep and hogs and chickens, and the dogs which control and protect them, are extinct. Because the other beasts and their guardians merely supply man with food, and someday science will feed him by means of synthetic gases and so eliminate the economic need which they fill. While what the horse supplies to man is something deep and profound in his emotional nature and need.

It will endure and survive until man's own nature changes. Because you can almost count on your thumbs the types and classes of human beings in whose lives and memories and experience and glandular discharge the horse has no place. These will be the ones who don't like to bet on anything which involves the element of chance or skill or the unforeseen. They will be the ones who don't like to watch something in motion, either big or going fast, no matter what it is. They will be the ones who don't like to watch something alive and bigger and stronger than man, under the control of puny man's will doing something which man himself is too weak or too inferior in sight or hearing or speed to do.

These will have to exclude even the ones who don't like horses--the ones who would not touch a horse or go near it, who have never mounted one nor ever intend to; who can and do and will risk and lose their shirts on a horse they have never seen.

So some people can bet on a horse without ever seeing one outside a Central Park fiacre or a peddler's van. And perhaps nobody can watch horses running forever, with a mutuel window convenient, without making a bet. But it is possible that some people can and do do this.

So it is not just betting, the chance to prove with money your luck or what you call your judgment, that draws people to horse races. It is much deeper than that. It is a sublimination, a transference: man, with his admiration for speed and strength, physical power far beyond what he himself is capable of, projects his own desire for physical supremacy, victory, onto the agent--the baseball or football team, the prize fighter. Only the horse race is more universal because the brutality of the prize fight is absent, as well as the attenuation of football or baseball--the long time needed for the orgasm of victory to occur, where in the horse race it is a matter of minutes, never over two or three, repeated six or eight or 10 times in one afternoon.

Only a fool would try to embellish upon Faulkner. Let's just say I wish I'd written that, along with The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse 5 and anything by Dashiell Hammett. But I'm glad he did, if only to nudge the skeptical into thinking that at least a part of racing's future might lie in its past, and in the horse itself. For those who would like to read the rest of Faulkner's SI piece, it's available in a few places on-line. In the name of shameless commerce, however, I would urge the purchase of Finished Lines: A Collection of Memorable Writing on Thoroughbred Racing, edited by Frank Scatoni and published by DRF Press. Fortunately, the entries are alphabetical, which means "F" comes before "H" -- waaaay before "H".