On bad analogies and a life lesson from Sunny Jim

Apr 13th 2011 07:19 pm |

I didn’t watch the Wood Memorial this weekend. I was out and about in New York City, following the results via Twitter, and knew something crazy happened when someone tweeted: “Oh my.” After finding out that Uncle Mo finished third, I saw a few tweets evoking the name Secretariat in relation to the upset of Uncle Mo. Needless to say, this insulted my historical sense and I sent out this tweet via my phone before I even watched a replay of the race:

Yes, maybe a little snarky and not the most articulate thing I have ever written, but I think you get the point. I’m not alone in jumping all over this bad analogy. Others have chimed in with similar thoughts in the last few days.

Teresa at Brooklyn Backstretch posted an excellent historical piece looking at the reaction to Secretariat’s loss in the Wood, where she wrote:

Secretariat came into the Wood with 11 races on his record. He had raced twice that year, winning the Grade 3 Bay Shore and the Grade 2 Gotham. Uncle Mo came in with four lifetime races, nearly two-thirds less than Secretariat, and just one this year. There is no comparison.

Alan Mann at Left at the Gate, shared that sentiment in a post titled Uncle Schmo:

Tom Durkin immediately compared the outcome to Secretariat’s defeat to Angle Light in 1973. The main difference there was that Secretariat was making his – get this – 12th career start in the Wood, nine of those as a two-year old. Maybe if Uncle Mo had nearly that kind of foundation, he would have handled this ordinary field even on a bad day.

And, Mike Watchmaker of the Daily Racing Form, concurred, writing:

…the only way Uncle Mo’s loss in the Wood could ever be analogous to Secretariat’s is if Uncle Mo goes on to sweep the Triple Crown, beats a superstar field of older horses in an invitational race in the fall, and then closes his campaign with two awesome romps in major turf stakes going 12 and 13 furlongs. Otherwise, it’s fantasy.

I absolutely agree and would add that comparing unproven colts to the legends of the past does a disservice to the horse and unnecessarily inflates the already inflated egos of the owners and trainers. I’m all for evoking the names of the past to gain perspective on the present but I think such comparisons should be made with a little more thought then the unfortunate Secretariat/Uncle Mo comparisons being thrown around on Saturday. I’m glad I’m not alone on this.

I’m taking a week off from the historical articles so I thought i’d post a story from Jimmy Breslin’s Sunny Jim (as I have mentioned many times, one of my all time favorite books). I have been thinking about this story a lot lately and came back to it again thinking about Uncle Mo on Saturday evening.

Breslin wrote the following on Jim Fitzsimmons perspective on racing and life:

…The result win, lose, or draw, is something that just happens. The effort is so much more important. It is [Sunny Jim’s] way, and it is something you have to know about if you are going to understand this man as he is.

After working with horses for all these years, Mr. Fitz has come to the conclusion that a horse is not any dumber, proportionately, not burdened with any more poor personal qualities than humans. In fact, he has always felt that a horse gives more of himself in nearly every circumstance than do humans. This makes it rather hard to be a full-blooded Fitzsimmons because the old man constantly measures you alongside the performances of his horses.

There was, for example, the afternoon several years ago at the Saratoga race track when Mr. Fitz was standing in the infield with grandson Jimmy while one of his horses, Cleve, came around the final turn well behind the pack. Cleve was a horse born a trifle slow and this unfortunate condition did not change. But he was still straining with all-out strides as he came around the turn and the sight of him doing this, while a good 15 lengths off the lead, caused grandson Jimmy to laugh.

“Look at Cleve,” he said to the old man. “Running himself into the ground. He couldn’t catch those horses if he had help.”

Mr. Fitz didn’t take his eyes off Cleve. “Let me tell you something,” he grunted. “That horse you makin’ fun of is tryin’ the best he can. Now if you go through life and you try to do things right as hard as this horse is tryin’ right now; if you do that, son, then you’re going to be quite a man.”

Mr. Fitz left the track later that day and when somebody asked him how Cleve ran, he told them, “Fine. Did the best he could. Can’t ask for more than that.”

Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? While it might not bring any solace to the Pletchers and Repoles of the world, it certainly works for a regular guy like me.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Fitzsimmons, Sunny Jim,Secretariat,Wood Memorial



3 Responses to “On bad analogies and a life lesson from Sunny Jim”

  1. Valerie says:

    Great passage! Definitely a life-lesson to be learned from it as well 🙂

  2. gary says:

    I am not a big Tom Durkin fan….He is frequently overbearing,tedious,or just too cute in his calls….But I tend to give him the benefit of doubt on this one…I think his reference was meant to convey the shock value of the upset,not compare Beyers or Rags….Mo is no better than 50/50 to get to the Derby….He is certainly no Secretariat, could he be the next Capote ?

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