04/15/2010 12:55PM

Sound, Fury, Post Time

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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".

maryann727 More than 1 year ago
Thank you for the excerpt. Years ago I entered a Faulkner passage I loved into a journal, not knowing the source. Now I know, it is also from "Kentucky: May: Saturday, Three Days to the Afternoon." I hope some readers enjoy it. " And now in the gray early light we can see them, in couples and groups at canter or hand-gallop under the exercise boys. Then one alone, at once furious and solitary, going full out, breezed, the rider hunched forward, excrescent and precarious, not of the horse but simply (for the instant) with it, in the conventional posture of speed—and who knows, perhaps the two of them, man and horse both: the animal dreaming, hoping that for that moment at least it looked like Whirlaway or Citation, the boy for that moment at least that he was indistinguishable from Arcaro or Earl Sande, perhaps feeling already across his knees the scented sweep of the victorious garland." The entire article is in SI Vault at: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1129634/1/index.htm
bigcy More than 1 year ago
"Finished Lines" is genius. The best writing about TB's all in one book for your perusal. I used to post on a website where I would shamelessly hawk this book...nothing in it for me other than wanting everybody who loves the horses to familiarize themselves with the best writing the game has to offer. If you don't have it, you need to get it. It's that simple! Here is more from Faulkner's Derby story...has a race ever been described more sublimely than this in 2 sentences?? "Only a little over two minutes: one simultaneous metallic clash as the gates spring. Though you do not really know what it was you heard: whether it was that metallic crash, or the simultaneous thunder of the hooves in that first leap or the massed voices, the gasp, the exhalation—whatever it was, the clump of horses indistinguishable yet, like a brown wave dotted with the bright silks of the riders like chips flowing toward us along the rail until, approaching, we can begin to distinguish individuals, streaming past us now as individual horses—horses which (including the rider) once stood about eight feet tall and 10 feet long, now look like arrows twice that length and less than half that thickness, shooting past and bunching again as perspective diminishes, then becoming individual horses once more around the turn into the backstretch, streaming on, to bunch for the last time into the homestretch itself, then again individuals, individual horses, the individual horse, the Horse: 2:01[4/5] minutes."
Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
Jay, I recently purchased the DRF publication "Finished Lines" and this piece of writing has really whetted my appetite to start reading. As I have posted before on both sides of the Atlantic, this game really should be about the horse first, the race second and the betting only a distant third. I suppose if I was a more successful gambler I might possibly have a different view, but I hope not. Regards - Bernard
Leamas More than 1 year ago
You have to have read the Rievers to fully appreciate Faulkner's understanding of backcountry horse-racing.
Gharza More than 1 year ago
Yo Jay, I suggest you take a look at the the 1978 San Juan Capistrano winner Tiller and his report card that year for the Santa Anita winter meet. Talk about versatility and results.
ejs More than 1 year ago
'Orgasm of Victory' is a remarkable phrase. How remarkable perhaps best illuminated by the realization that it's never gained any popular traction. As if the whole society has agreed not to go there. 'Thrill of Victory' Okay. 'Orgasm of Victory' not to be discussed in polite society. And yet one wonders whether too much racing, too much simulcasting, too many betting options now has Racing appealing to frenzied Onanists rather than thougtful Lovers.
stable girl More than 1 year ago
Jay, Thanks for the Faulkner. Great way to start the day. @enigfv I once groomed a horse with a passion for hotdogs, so I suppose anything is possible.
Kris More than 1 year ago
Jay, I was working on a Derby preview and thought of that very same article. I've always remembered the first lines: This saw Boone: the bluegrass, the virgin land rolling westward wave by dense wave from the Allegheny gaps, unmarked then, teeming with deer and buffalo about the salt licks and the limestone springs whose water in time would make the fine bourbon whiskey; and the wild men too—the red men and the white ones too who had to be a little wild also to endure and survive and so mark the wilderness with the proofs of their tough survival—Boonesborough, Owenstown, Harrod's and Harbuck's Stations; Kentucky: the dark and bloody ground. The whole article is available on SI's excellent archive here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1005160/index.htm
Bo Shizzle More than 1 year ago
I read Faulkner through high school and college. The piece above was the first thing I have ever read from him that I cared for. Then again, it was the first thing I have read from Faulkner that I think I truly understand.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
That is great, a real find. Reminds me of a favorite Faulkner passage from "Ad Astra"(1918). "So you see further than we see?" "A man sees further looking out of the dark upon the light than a man does in the light and looking out upon the light. That is the principle of the spyglass. The lens is only to tease him with that which the sense that suffers and desires can never affirm." "What do you see, then?" Bland said. "I see girls," Comyn said. "I see acres and acres of the yellow hair of them like wheat and me among the wheat." The man could write and is always a treat to read.