11/12/2009 1:00AM

Competition a matter of perspective


It's bad enough Hollywood Park had to start its mini-meet of 27 days on a Friday the 13th. What's toughest to swallow, at least from an aesthetic standpoint, is trying to put on a show in the immediate shadow of last weekend's Breeders' Cup.

The bunch of Cal-breds lining up on Saturday for the $75,000 On Trust Handicap deserves the benefit of the doubt, though, as will the stakes horses who answer the bell for such events as the Matriarch, the Citation, the Hollywood Derby, the Starlet, and the CashCall Futurity before the meet ends on Dec. 20.

In the meantime, the sport continues to vibrate from the performances of Life Is Sweet, Goldikova, Conduit, and Zenyatta - especially Zenyatta - in their memorable Breeders' Cup appearances. Befitting the circumstances, many of the world's best racing writers were on hand to sing their praises, none of them more eloquent than David Ashforth of The Racing Post:

"For some, all their lives, it will be a duty to deny imposters and say, 'Ah, but if you had seen Zenyatta, that day,' and we did," wrote Ashforth. "We did, thank you. We saw her take her time to join the fray, raising anxiety, toying with our emotions, giving herself a task only a great horse could be equal to, then languidly showing herself more than equal to it."

This is not the way reporters were taught to write in Journalism 101. Or 102, for that matter. Personal pronouns were discouraged, if not outright forbidden. But times and styles have changed. It is okay now, even in the best publications - electronic or otherwise - to allow the heart to creep onto the sleeve.

"For this was not merely about the cold calculation of distances and times, weights and ratings," Ashforth wrote, "but about adrenaline and emotion, about the manner and the style and the thrill of a unique, shared moment."

The writer, if he or she does his or her job, conveys the size and scope of those rare moments, beyond merely taking roll. As sports editor of the Los Angeles Times for 25 years, Bill Dwyre rode herd on the coverage of the biggest possible events, from Super Bowls to the Olympics. Since 1996, as a columnist, Dwyre has embraced horse racing as one of his favored beats. And last Saturday, bearing witness to the Breeders' Cup Classic, Dwyre's buttoned-down, old-school ethic gave way to what was, for him, an emotional outburst.

"But when it happened," Dwyre wrote, "when the drama was right there for all to see, and feel, it was such a stunning display of athletic excellence that people began searching for comparable moments. Was it Kirk Gibson hitting his homer, or Doug Flutie throwing his Hail Mary, or Secretariat hitting the wire 31 lengths ahead? If it felt that way, might it be?"

"I felt that way," Dwyre said, reached a few days later. "I was standing down there, guys jumping all over each other. It was hard to be stoic about it."

Dwyre's game of choice has always been tennis, a contest in which the individual athlete holds his fate in his own hands. He was asked if anything he had seen courtside compared to the Classic.

"The one match I thought about was a semi-final between Agassi and Sampras in 2000 in Australia, where Sampras was hitting his second serve 135 miles an hour . . . and Agassi beat him," Dwyre said. "I saw one match last year at Indian Wells when Nadal was playing some guy until 2:30 in the morning and just refused to lose. Then there was the Agassi moment when he finally retired, and took the microphone. I'm not much of an old soppy guy, but that was pretty emotional."

It can be argued that Rachel's Alexandra's Preakness victory over Derby winner Mine That Bird was the season's perfect, 24-carat bookend to Zenyatta's Classic. Dwyre was at Pimlico as well.

"That day it was, 'Wow, she is what we think she is, and there's so much left,' " Dwyre said. "It was the beginning of something. Zenyatta, I thought, was much better because it was a grand culmination of something."

As a new member of the National Turf Writers Association, Dwyre gets his first Eclipse Award ballot this year, and a chance to wrestle with the choice between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year.

"I don't know if they do it or not," Dwyre said. "But this may be the year you hand out two trophies, and you have them stand up there next to each other."

The sentiment is shared by a growing groundswell of writers and fans. Ties and co-champions, though, run contrary to the natural order, at least most of the time. Dwyre offered an exception, describing it as "the best moment I ever saw in sports."

"I was watching a Special Olympics swimming meet," said Dwyre, whose developmentally disabled son has been a regular participant. "It was at someplace like La Puente High School, and there were about 15 people in the stands. There were two young women, Lynn and Valerie, and I'd seen them swim against each other 15 times. Lynn always beat Valerie, because she was better. She always got the medal with the blue ribbon, while Valerie got the lesser medal.

"So I'm watching this race," Dwyre went on. "They're going down once and back once. Lynn touches the wall first and turns to go back, and I see Valerie right next to her, and Lynn is looking at her. Valerie is trying as hard as she can, and Lynn just swimming easy.

"That's when I realize what I'm seeing," Dwyre added. "I'm seeing a fixed Special Olympics race. She's letting her catch up. They touched the wall at the same time, and then there they were, on the victory stand together. Lynn wanted her friend to wear that medal, too."