In 1999, Charismatic was poised to become the first racehorse in more than two decades to mount a serious challenge for the Triple Crown.
The beautiful red-brown thoroughbred stallion had beaten the odds to win the Kentucky Derby, edging rival horse Menifee by a head. Charismatic bested Menifee again in the Preakness Stakes. All that was left was the Belmont. One more win and he’d capture a sports title only 11 horses have held since 1919.
The start of that race was absolutely overflowing with anticipation and excitement.
I’ve never been much of a horse racing fan, but for some reason I got excited about Charismatic. Right time, right place in my life, I guess.
And I’ve always liked the endless symbolism associated with the race itself. Many things in life are decided by a “horse race” … a quick dash between muscle-popping competitors rushing all-out to the finish line. We do it at work, and at play. We wait at the starting gate, we ride our prized horses, we run in circles, we jockey for position.
Comes from being an English major, I guess … I see symbolism in everything. Darn professors.
But the other night, I had a strange dream about Charismatic.
And I mean strange …
From the stands, I was watching the horses and their jockeys get into the starting gates at the ’99 Belmont. The only problem: they were in the gates backward. Were they going to run the race in the wrong direction? Nearly everything runs counterclockwise in Western society — auto races, merry-go-rounds, revolving doors, baseball base runners — it just wouldn’t be right.
I sat perplexed for a while, trying to reason it out, and then the race began. The gates burst open and the horses dashed out onto the track — running in the right direction, but running backward.
I woke up immediately. I was befuddled, but that confusion soon gave way to laughter.
You see, before I went to sleep, I was thinking about the turf battle over the appointment of a new county prosecutor between the commissioners and the Democrats. It’s funny how the subconscious takes unexpected paths to help us reason things out. Maybe it was the rival horse being named Menifee — similar to recently retired prosecutor Stew Menefee. My subconscious was playing a joke on me, to some extent, but once I got the joke, it made perfect sense.
A horse race run backward. The first thing to cross the finish line — no matter who wins — will be the horse’s … well, you get the picture.
I immediately imagined the three candidates nominated by the Democrats and the commissioners themselves all on the horses in my backward Belmont awkwardly trying to race toward the finish line, facing backward, always looking over their shoulders, horses complaining, dirt flying and the crowd half aghast and half chortling. Spurned candidate Mike Spencer is still at the starting gates, his hopes dashed and his horse inexplicably stalled.
They all look pretty silly, to varying degrees. There are some people who still manage to look somewhat dignified, even riding a horse running backward, but no matter what, there’s still a clear comic aspect to the whole race.
That’s how I see this squabble over the prosecutor appointment.
I won’t bore you with my interpretation of who’s right and who is wrong. You all will decide that for yourselves, anyway. I do know that everybody involved is beginning to look a bit silly, and the situation is creating a lot of distrust. Where that distrust began, I don’t know.
But ultimately it’s just an age-old struggle for control.
Who has the power to choose the next prosecutor? That’s the key question, and what the fight’s all about.
But just as important as the outcome is the process. We voters remember the horse races, and this one is starting to get ugly.
Despite all the hype in 1999, Charismatic didn’t win the Belmont, or the Triple Crown. He came in third, and was eventually retired and now lives in Japan collecting stud fees for his well-off owners. His jockey, Chris Antley, died a year after the Triple Crown run of an apparent drug overdose. How fast we fall, right?
In their stead, Lemon Drop Kid jockey Jose Santos stood in the winner’s circle. But, like all jockeys, he was covered head-to-toe in mud. It’s the nature of the race.
Dan Jackson, The Daily World’s city editor, can be reached at 537-3929, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.