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The Horse In The Living Room

Last year the Kentucky Derby was won by a horse named Fusaichi Pegasus. A striking name, not so much on its own terms as it is for its inclusion of a Japanese neologism. (It doesn’t really mean anything; it’s the name of the owner, Fusao Sekiguchi, combined with the number one.) The ranks of Derby winners are swollen with horses named things like Spectacular Bid and Majestic Prince.

The usual crew of WASPy ABC sports announcers was so completely baffled by the name that they shortened it to Pegasus. The announcers’ handling of their cultural illiteracy was less than graceful — “You say ‘Fusachi.’ I say ‘Fusichi.’ Let’s call the whole thing off,” quipped one — and the problem of Fusaichi Pegasus’s name became the subject of a few articles itself.

The mispronunciation was really the tip of the iceberg, though. There was this subtle fascination with the idea of a Japanese horse winning the Derby which pervaded the sentimental pre-race bios of the horses and their owners and the announcers’ patter. And then, in the winner’s circle, the subtle jingoism surfaced: Jim McKay, an ABC announcer who was due to retire from Derby coverage that year and looked as if he was fighting off senility with every quip, made some kind of reference to payback and World War Two to Mr. Sekiguchi.

Fast forward to this year: War Emblem, a hotheaded black colt with a tendency to bite anything that comes near him, wins the Derby, and also the Preakness. Emblem is owned by a Saudi.

I expected similar treatment by the media in this case, but I’ve picked up surprisingly little racist static during this year’s Triple Crown coverage. (Disclaimer: I substantially cut back the amount of pre-race coverage I absorbed this year, so this observation may not hold much water.) Arab countries do send plenty of horses to American racetracks each year; making a fuss over it would make about as much sense as bringing up the Boston Tea Party if an English horse won (though I’m sure, by this point, Jim McKay would be happy to oblige).

Still, with the amount of jingoism in the atmosphere at the moment, I was surprised when there were only a few low-key references to the fact that Ahmed bin Salman is, in fact, a Saudi Arabian prince. Another explanation in the broader picture, I guess, is that Saudi Arabia is such a strong and constant ally of the States that it just doesn’t merit a mention. Same reason it rarely gets mentioned that many of the members of al Qaeda are Saudi nationals.

And when you look at it in that light, seeing the cameras lap up the image of a fat royal from an OPEC superpower and the silver-haired, Hollywood-caliber trainer of his horse giving each other bear hugs over the victory of their million-dollar athelete… then proceeding down to give more bear hugs to the very tiny Latino man sitting atop the sweaty beast… and who knows what’s in store for the jock (a broken collarbone, someday, maybe?) but you know the horse has just secured his future as the producer of million-dollar semen rather than joining the ranks of the thirty thousand other racehorses who are sold for dogmeat each year… well, for those of us who tend to look dimly on the status quo of globalization, this sounds like a very familiar story.

And speaking of which, everyone needs to go read about how the Bush administration’s debts to the oil industry may have kept us from knowing about September 11th before it happened. read up.

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