Horse Sense

Damon Runyon

(The following communication came to us from an inmate of a racing barn at the Jamaica racetrack. It was written in horse language which we had translated by Hot Horse Herbie, who savvies horse talk. We withhold the name of the author. He says he does not wish to get in bad with the racing commission.)

I am an old race horse.

I run in the cheapest of the cheap claiming races.

The racing writers and the public have many unkind terms for me.

They call me a skate. A beetle. A lizard. They say I am glue factory fodder and buzzard bait. They say I am a bum.

I don’t know why they are so mean to me. I am as honest as the day is long. I always run my heart out. But I have bad legs and sometimes they pain me frightfully. Then I can’t run as fast as I would like.

I suppose I am foolish to resent the titles the writers and the public give me. I have heard members of the human race call one another names much more insulting.

But I wish those fellows had to run when their legs were hurting them and with a boy whipping and spurring them to make them go faster. Then they would know how I feel.

I ran in a race only a couple of days ago. I read one writer’s comment on me the morning of the race. He said: “Old cripple. Might wake up.” After the race he said I quit.

That was a reflection on my courage. I didn’t quit. I ran on top for half a mile and then my legs got to paining me so much I had to slow up. Every step I took was awful.

Yes, I am a cripple, and old. What do they expect of an old cripple, anyway?

It is not my fault I am crippled. Don’t you suppose I would like to be well and strong? Don’t you suppose I would like to run on top all the way so the boys wouldn’t whip me and kick me trying to make me catch up?

I don’t blame the boy. He doesn’t mean to be cruel. He doesn’t realize how my legs are paining me. If he did, probably he would sympathize with me and let me walk home.

But then the stewards would have him up in the stand for a poor ride and the racing writers and the public would abuse him more than they do me. I only wish the stewards could question me before a race and find out how I feel. Maybe they would be sympathetic, too.

All the horses I run with are cripples. They all have bad legs or something else the matter with them. There are many of us, but not one is completely sound of limb.

I once read that horse racing is for the purpose of improving the breed of horses. That strikes me as very funny because I know that of all the thousands of race horses in the United States there are not as many as a hundred, including the proudest of the stake horses, that are completely sound. And most of them will sooner or later be in my class.

They will all get crippled from having to run over the hard dirt tracks. They run my kind as often as we can raise a gallop, so the public can gamble on us. We have to run when our legs may be almost killing us. Even when we are so sick we ought to be in bed.

I was once a proud stake horse myself. I cost a rich man $10,000 as a yearling at the Saratoga sales. I won four times that much for him in stakes before I was four years old. Then my legs went bad.

He could have afforded to turn me out to pasture for the rest of my days. I had earned retirement. But he ran me in a claiming race and since then I have gone from barn to barn, always dropping lower in racing class as my legs got worse. I hope that owner feels ashamed when he sees me now. I wish him all the humiliation I have felt myself as I have gone lower and lower. But none of my physical pain. I would not wish that on a dog.

Don’t call me a bum the next time you watch me run.

Just think of me as an old cripple. Think of how my legs must be hurting me. But remember it isn’t my fault. Feel sorry for me as I feel sorry for the little boys who have to ride me.

I know my poor old legs may give out from under me any minute and the boy will get badly hurt or even killed. Of course, I may get hurt, too. Perhaps one of my aching legs may get broken. I have seen it happen to other horses many times.

Then they will put a bullet through my head and maybe I will be better off. At least I will be all through with the torture of running on my crippled legs. At least I will not have to worry about ending my days pulling a vegetable wagon.