Elizabeth: A horse-racing fairy tale

Victor Espinoza rode Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to victory in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic. Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports

Victor Espinoza rode Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to victory in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports

As you probably guessed if you read my What Hockey Taught Me About Story post earlier last year, I’m a sports fan. I love this time of year, not just because the long dark evenings are perfect for curling up with a good book (reading or writing one), but because it’s time for my two favourite sports: hockey and football.  (Honesty compels me to admit that I’m watching a hockey game right now 🙂 )

I’ve never been much of a sports participant – I blame it on dismal eye-hand coordination and a lack of depth perception – but I enjoy cheering on the local teams and keeping track of the careers of my favourite players. Though I like sports in general, there are a number of them that, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t give a second look (golf, I’m looking at you). Sometimes, however, there are special circumstances.

Last year around this time you would have found me watching a baseball game. On purpose. The local team was in the World Series, going for their third win in five years. Even as a non-fan it was exciting to watch those final games and wonder if they were going to succeed or not. Thousands packed the streets for the victory parade after the team won the pennant, both die-hard fans and those that were caught up in the excitement.

This past June, it was the local basketball team that took centre stage, going for their first championship win in 40 years. It was the main topic of conversation at work for weeks, and not just because one of the team’s point guards stars in an advertising campaign for my company. When the team won the streets were packed with fans who wanted to watch the victory parade and catch a glimpse of their favourite players. Even now, almost 5 months later, an event in my office building where fans could have their picture taken with the championship trophy (just the trophy, not the actual players) had people lined up for ages, team t-shirts and cameras in hand.

Last Saturday it was the Breeders’ Cup Classic horse race. I had no idea it was even horse-racing season, but I came across the race when channel-surfing for a movie. I stopped because the announcers were talking about American Pharoah – the triple-crown winning horse I mentioned in this post earlier this year.   The race was going to be his final run before hanging up the silks and heading off to stud (a little over three years old and already time to retire). I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the race, wondering how it would turn out and whether American Pharoah would be the first horse to win the Grand Slam of American racing (as if I even knew what that was before Saturday). He was a sentimental favourite and it was exciting to watch him fly around the track (he looked like he loved to run). When he won, his jockey took him on a long victory walk so the cheering fans could get a last look and snap photos, as if he was a movie star.  As the announcer put it when American Pharoah crossed the finish line it was the “fairy tale ending to the career of a lifetime.”

So what do these examples all have in common? The answer is pretty simple: great stories. In each case there were appealing stories related to the sport. There were interesting characters, good conflict (only one participant/team could win) and a variety of related human (or equine) interest segments to tug at the heart-strings. The particular sports may not have been of much interest to me, but the stories behind each of them kept me engaged, watching, and wondering “what’s next?”

So, have you found yourself drawn to read or watch something that you would not typically be interested in just because there was a great story?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: A horse-racing fairy tale

  1. I didn’t watch this year’s world series, but I followed it. My mother-in-law is originally from Kansas City and they won on her birthday so that was nice. I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I will follow a good story related to sports, or pop culture, or politics, or whatever. I often get story ideas for my own stories. Re: American Pharoah – I love that his name was an inadvertent misspelling. Since mine is, too, I can relate.

    • It is amazing where story ideas can come from, isn’t it. I liked the inadvertent name misspelling too, as well as the fact that the horse ran with earplugs in so he wasn’t distracted by the crowd noise.

  2. I actually found myself caught up in the Ronda Rousey vs. Nasty Opponent narrative of the last UFC championsh fight. I’ve never gone out of my way to watch UFC before, and I may never do so again, but I found myself wanting to see how the story concluded. It wasn’t enough just to read about it in the papers the next day, either; I figured out how to legally stream the fight as it was happening.

    In short, the ability of the authors of the story to create an engaging narrative separated me from my hard-earned cash. Well done, them.

    • Great example. That’s just the kind of thing I was thinking of and kudos for the marketing team or whoever created an interesting enough story around the event to catch the attention of people outside the UFC fan zone.

  3. My sports are in Japanese, generally, so it’s really hard for me to get into the story. I have a double barrier of being not sporting, and having to wade through the jargon. I used to like a bit of sumo, though. Long boring stretches of shoving punctuated by amazing acrobatics when one guy flipped another out of the ring and into the crowd.

    In general, though, I need my sports stories pre-processed. So, when I got into those Dick Francis books (it’s a big pink omnibus which someone gave me, and also Jenny recommended them at some point), I was amazed at how much I liked them. There was drama, and human interest, and lots of action. A lot of truth, too, both about the sport, and about humans in general.

    I really liked A League of Their Own and Field of Dreams, too. I’d never have those goals, but the writers really let us see their worlds.

    • Michaeline – those two movies were good, weren’t they? They’re both good examples of strong narrative making something engaging, whether you are interested in it (baseball) or not. Still haven’t read any Dick Francis, though the books have been recommended to me several times. Will definitely have to bump those up in the TBR pile.

  4. I’m not a golf fan, but I always get caught up in the Ryder Cup. There’s such a great atmosphere, and the organisers do a wonderful job with the team razzamatazz. It seems to be extra-special for the players, and that combined with the match-play format makes it exciting to watch. I also got caught up in the Americas Cup last time around, though I know absolutely nothing about sailing. Oh – and of course, this year’s US Open Women’s tennis. I don’t usually watch women’s tennis, but Serena’s bid for her Slam was a great story. When she almost got there but lost to Roberta Vinci (the odds against Vinci were something ridiculous for a two-person contest), I felt so sorry for her, but Roberta Vinci behaved with such grace and honesty, it was a different but equally moving human story from the one I’d expected to share.

    I keep meaning to read some Dick Francis. Must add him to my list.

    • I watched enough golf as a kid (every time we were at my Grandparent’s house for Sunday dinner), so I’ve had a life-time fill of that, but I did get up in the America’s Cup last time though, since it was right in my own backyard (so to speak). That was pretty exciting to watch. Tennis does sound like it has some great stories, but I haven’t watched much of it.

      Sounds like Dick Francis is on the list for many of us.

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