As sports fans, it's nice to have mutual interests. Football, basketball, baseball — we can all find common ground in there somewhere.
But sometimes — most of the time, really — it's satisfying to have interests that run outside the mainstream, too.
Different is good. Sure, people might think my interests are "odd" or "unusual" or "absolutely ridiculous," but I like to believe that my tastes are eclectic. Maybe a little obscure. Music, for instance. I like jazz. Not in the way that some people say they like jazz even though they haven't listened to anything that could remotely be considered "jazz" since they played "A Taste of Honey" in the high school stage band in 1987. Nope. I like jazz in the Coltrane-was-a-god kind of way (though not to the point where I can get into in-depth discussions about the merits of the bass player on Giant Steps vs. the bass player on A Love Supreme... which to some jazz fans means I'm not really a jazz fan).
Still, sometimes — like this week — it's a little sad to be so obscure. Because I really enjoy horse racing, and almost nobody else cares.
This is an exciting time in horse racing. In addition to the annual buildup to the Kentucky Derby, the sport is giddy over this week's return of America's two biggest equine stars, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. They're special horses with rare accomplishments.
Last year, as a 3-year-old filly, Rachel Alexandra won all eight of her races. She won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 lengths, then came back two weeks later and beat the boys in the Preakness. In September she capped her perfect year by beating older males in the Woodward Stakes. She was voted horse of the year, much to the dismay of Zenyatta's supporters. Zenyatta, now 6 years old, has never lost in her 15-race career. Last fall she became the first mare to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Her owners announced she would retire, then changed their mind early this year.
Both Rachel and Zenyatta made their first starts of the year Saturday. Assuming they come out of their races in good health, they're scheduled to race against each other for the first time on April 9 in the Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
It'll be huge.
We've been talking about their comebacks all week at my house... we have to talk about it at my house because once we leave home it's nearly impossible to find anyone else who is willing to listen.
Admittedly, our house isn't normal. If you ever visit, you might hear a commercial like this coming from my television: On the next Inside Information: The compelling and tragic story of 1984 Kentucky Derby winner, Swale.
And then you might hear my wife say: "Ohhhhh, I want to see that... "
Our television is, um, eclectic. For the last six months we've been living in HRTV/TVG world, a hard-to-reach kingdom that caters to the whims of horse racing fans. If you go deep enough into your U-verse or satellite tiers (sorry Cox subscribers), you can actually get two channels that specialize in horse racing.
Because one isn't enough, I guess.
And at my house, we actually think its worthwhile having two horse racing channels. Yeah, I know....
But at least this way we can maintain some connection to the sport. It's not easy to find people willing to listen to me chatter endlessly about Eskendereya's great performance in the Fountain of Youth. I seldom try anymore. Not sure which is worse, the blank stares or the suspicious glares. Some folks assume that if you like horse racing you're a degenerate gambler, which is really unfair. My wife loves horse racing because she loves horses. Sometimes she can look at a horse on the track and point out similarities to its sire. And don't get her started on Barbaro....
I'm no degenerate gambler, either. I'm a degenerate gambler-wannabe, a person whose tumble into depravation has been short-circuited by a stubborn unwillingness to risk losing money.
There was a time when horse racing was the sport of kings. Those days are gone. In the eyes of many, being a fan of horse racing no longer qualifies you as a sports fan at all; it qualifies you a social outcast and possible animal-hater.
That's one difference between being a jazz fan and being a racing fan: You're seldom judged harshly for being a jazz fan. People might think your musical taste is lame, but they rarely say so because they're afraid they'll appear ignorant for insulting a great American art form even though they're pretty sure the art form is just an insufferable, haphazard collection of cryptic solos (which we like to call "free jazz").
People have no such reluctance to withhold their judgments of horse racing and its followers.
And for the record, some of my best friends are degenerate gamblers.