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Old 05-18-2007, 09:48 AM
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Default W.C. Heinz (1915-2008): Death of a Racehorse (1949)

MARCH 4, 2008: Had to bring this thread back today as news comes of the passing of W. C. Heinz this past week at age 93 in Bennington, VT. I'm sorry that I did not take advantage of his proximity these last 10 years to meet him...


BILL HEINZ, 1915-2008

His NY Times obit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/sp...4bb&ei=5087%0A

MORE LINKS AT LATEST ADDITION TO END OF THE THREAD...



MAY 18, 2007: I'm taking a pass on the trip to Baltimore... the lingering effects of a long trip to Louisville via Montreal and Toronto, and winter of commuting to Florida from New York, getting the better of me. Having made the decision by returning to bed after posting today's selections, instead of returning to the Bonneville for another odyssey, I found my thoughts drifting to last year's Preakness and the calamity it produced.

While it's unavoidable that the media dwell to an extent on Barbaro this weekend, I recall interpreting his injury last year in the context of the daily peril every 'everyday' racehorse is placed, in spots where the spotlight never shines. As always with commentary on this grim reality, it's important to show the appreciation we all have, or need to have, for the trusting lesser creatures that place their lives on the brink regularly for our entertainment.

Below is a column from 1949 by W.C. Heinz, a lesser known sports journalism legend whose prose on athletic competition soared far above that in most other sections of the newspapers for which he wrote. His 'Death of a Racehorse', introduced nicely by blogger Daniel Bradley, bittersweetly captures the tension and angst of the fateful incidents and susbsequent gloom that accompanies the attendence to the doomed runner. I'm sure I'm violating a dozen copywright infringement laws here, but it's too outstanding a piece to be left waiting for people to discover. And in many ways, serves to recall last year's Run for the Black-Eyed Susans better than anything we will be offered by the modern media over the next 48 hours...

From Daniel Bradley's blog: W.C. Heinz worked for The New York Sun, The New York Daily News and later wrote for various magazines and authored several books. Heinz was a pioneer in sports journalism, as he was one of the first to move away from the flowery, overly dramatic prose that for decades before defined sports journalism. His 1949 story that appeared in The Sun, Death of a Racehorse, is possibly the greatest deadline story ever to appear on the sportspages of a newspaper. When you read a story in the newspaper, all too often, the ending is weak. The writer is in a hurry or tires at the conclusion. One of the defining characteristics of Death of a Racehorse is the ending. It's haunting, in a way. While reading it, it is easy to imagine Heinz sitting in the press box and writing on his typewriter with rain pouring outside.

# # #

'DEATH OF A RACEHORSE' by W. C. Heinz (New York Sun, 1949)

They were going to the post for the sixth race at Jamaica, two year olds, some making their first starts, to go five and a half furlongs for a purse of four thousand dollars. They were moving slowly down the backstretch toward the gate, some of them cantering, others walking, and in the press box they had stopped their working or their kidding to watch, most of them interested in one horse.

"Air Lift," Jim Roach said. "Full brother of Assault."

Assault, who won the triple crown ... making this one too, by Bold Venture, himself a Derby winner, out of Igual, herself by the great Equipoise. ... Great names in the breeding line ... and now the little guy making his first start, perhaps the start of another great career.

They were off well, although Air Lift was fifth. They were moving toward the first turn, and now Air Lift was fourth. They were going into the turn, and now Air Lift was starting to go, third perhaps, when suddenly he slowed, a horse stopping, and below in the stands you could hear a sudden cry, as the rest left him, still trying to run but limping, his jockey -- Dave Gorman -- half falling, half sliding off.

"He broke a leg!" somebody, holding a binoculars to his eyes, shouted in the press box. "He broke a leg!"

Down below they were roaring for the rest, coming down the stretch now, but in the infield men were running toward the turn, running toward the colt and the boy standing beside him, alone. There was a station wagon moving around the track toward them, and then, in a moment, the big green van they call the horse ambulance.

"Gorman was crying like a baby," one of them, coming out of the jockey room, said. "He said he must have stepped in a hole, but you should have seen him crying."

"It's his left front ankle," Dr. J.G. Catlett, the veterinarian, was saying. "It's a compound fracture, and I'm waiting for confirmation from Mr. Hirsch to destroy him."

He was standing outside one of the stables beyond the backstretch, and he had just put in a call to Kentucky where Max Hirsch, the trainer, and Robert Kleberg, the owner, were attending the yearling sales.

"When will you do it?" one of them said.

"Right as soon as I can," the doctor said. "As soon as I get confirmation. If it was an ordinary horse, I'd done it right there."

He walked across the road and around another barn to where they had the horse. The horse was still in the van, about twenty stable hands in dungarees and sweat-stained shirts, bare-headed or wearing old caps, standing around quietly and watching with Mr. M.A. Gilman, the assistant veterinarian.

"We might as well get him out of the van," Catlett said, "before we give him the novocaine. It'll be better out in the air."

The boy in the van with the colt led him out then, the colt limping, tossing his head a little, the blood running down and covering his left foreleg. When the saw him, standing there outside the van now, the boy holding him, they started talking softly.

"Full brother of Assault." ... "It don't make no difference now. He's done." ... "But damn, what a grand little horse." ... "Ain't he a horse?"

"It's a funny thing," Catlett said. "All the cripples that go out, they never break a leg. It always happens to a good-legged horse."

A man, gray-haired and rather stout, wearing brown slacks and a blue shirt walked up.

"Then I better not send for the wagon yet?" the man said.

"No," Catlett said. "Of course, you might just as well. Max Hirsch may say no, but I doubt it."

"I don't know," the man said.

"There'd be time in the morning," Catlett said.

"But in this hot weather --" the man said.

They had sponged off the colt, after they had given him the shot to deaden the pain, and now he stood, feeding quietly from some hay they had placed at his feet. In the distance, you could hear the roar of the crowd in the grandstand, but beyond it and above it, you could hear thunder and see the occasional flash of lightning.

When Catlett came back the next time he was hurrying, nodding his head and waving his hands. Now the thunder was louder, the flashes of lightning brighter, and now rain was starting to fall.

"All right," he said, shouting to Gilman. "Max Hirsch talked to Mr. Kleberg. We've got confirmation."

They moved the curious back, the rain falling faster now, and they moved the colt over close to a pile of loose bricks. Gilman had the halter and Catlett had the gun, shaped like a bell with a handle at the top. This bell he placed, the crowd silent, on the colt's forehead, just between the eyes. The colt stood still and then Catlett, with the hammer in his other hand, struck the handle of the bell. There was a short, sharp sound and the colt toppled onto his left side, his eyes staring, his legs straight out, the free legs quivering.

"Aw, ----" someone said.

That was all they said. They worked quickly, the two vets removing the broken bones as evidence for the insurance company, the crowd silently watching. Then the heavens opened, the rain pouring down, the lightning flashing, and they rushed for cover of the stables, leaving alone on his side near a pile of bricks, the rain running off his hide, dead an hour and a quarter after his first start, Air Lift, son of Bold Venture, full brother of Assault.
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Last edited by Kasept : 03-04-2008 at 08:42 AM.
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Old 05-18-2007, 09:56 AM
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So sad.
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Old 05-18-2007, 09:59 AM
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Still a great article. Assault himself was known as a fragile animal and barely made it to the track.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:05 AM
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Originally Posted by slotdirt
Still a great article. Assault himself was known as a fragile animal and barely made it to the track.
Wasn't that more because of the accident he had as a yearling? He had injured his hoof or something and had a funny gait at the walk and trot.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cajungator26
Wasn't that more because of the accident he had as a yearling? He had injured his hoof or something and had a funny gait at the walk and trot.
Club foot.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:08 AM
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He gored his foot on something as a baby, and always walked with a limp. The only Texas bred to win the Derby, at least I think that is right.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slotdirt
He gored his foot on something as a baby, and always walked with a limp. The only Texas bred to win the Derby, at least I think that is right.
A spike.. went through the hoof and it grew misshapenly. Walked with a limp which didn't bother him at full gallop.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:13 AM
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Update: Middleground was also Texas bred.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:26 AM
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it is a chilling piece. the horse pulls up and the crowd roars for the unfallen.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:27 AM
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Originally Posted by sumitas
it is a chilling piece. the horse pulls up and the crowd roars for the unfallen.
Typical human nature. This is why most people disgust me.
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Old 05-18-2007, 11:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kasept
As always with commentary on this grim reality, it's important to show the appreciation we all have, or need to have, for the trusting lesser creatures that place their lives on the brink regularly for our entertainment.
You can't force such appreciation out of those that don't have it and never will.

I've never thought of horses as "lesser" creatures.
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Old 05-18-2007, 11:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Riot
You can't force such appreciation out of those that don't have it and never will. I've never thought of horses as "lesser" creatures.
While you can't force it, you can attempt to reiterate it as often as possible in the hopes that it hits home with the unelightened...

I would hope that the use of 'lesser' in that sentence is understood in its' limited application to the situation of being historical beasts of burden in the world at large. It is not suggested they are 'lesser' beings...
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Old 05-18-2007, 12:00 PM
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Thanks for sharing that Steve. a haunting account, so well written.
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Old 05-18-2007, 01:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kasept
While you can't force it, you can attempt to reiterate it as often as possible in the hopes that it hits home with the unelightened...

I would hope that the use of 'lesser' in that sentence is understood in its' limited application to the situation of being historical beasts of burden in the world at large. It is not suggested they are 'lesser' beings...
Sorry - I'm probably overly sensitive after a bad couple of weeks at work involving much euthanasia of creatures overtly considered "lesser" in a different sense, owned by those who take their animal husbandry responsibilities very casually indeed.

I really do not hold hope for ever broadening nor opening the hearts of some. Just keep pounding away, advocate for one animal at a time ....

Good article, thanks for posting it. Probably quite an unusually sensitive piece for its time, considering date of original publication.
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Old 05-18-2007, 02:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kasept
I'm taking a pass on the trip to Baltimore...
By the way, you do realize that the above decision guarantees Street Sense winning the Triple Crown, as you won't be there to have seen it all?
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Old 05-18-2007, 02:32 PM
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Quote:
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By the way, you do realize that the above decision guarantees Street Sense winning the Triple Crown, as you won't be there to have seen it all?
As always, Steve sacrificing his joy for the good of the game!
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Old 05-18-2007, 07:32 PM
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way to beg out of a trip byk..touching piece.but your burnt out..admit it..lol
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Old 05-18-2007, 07:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hoovesupsideyourhead
way to beg out of a trip byk..touching piece.but your burnt out..admit it..lol
Breaks a streak of attending 21 straight Triple Crown races dating back to Preakness '00... Have to be in Florida for show Monday, so it turned out to be the right call.
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A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right. ~ Thomas Paine
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Last edited by Kasept : 05-18-2007 at 08:09 PM.
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Old 05-19-2007, 02:01 AM
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Geezus. Substitute the horse's name with a prisoner's and it reads just like an execution in Huntsville, Texas, including the last meal of hay! Thanks for that feel good, Steve. lol.
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Old 03-04-2008, 08:18 AM
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Had to bring this thread back today as news comes of the passing of W. C. Heinz this past week at age 93 in Bennington, VT. I'm sorry that I did not take advantage of his proximity these last 10 years to meet him...


BILL HEINZ, 1915-2008

His NY Times obit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/sp...4bb&ei=5087%0A


Dave Anderson (NYT) tribute:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/sp...tml?ref=sports


Wonderful tribute from John Schulian in the LA Times:
http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-...,2816839.story


Heinz' collection of columns at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0306810433


Heinz' famed boxing novel 'The Professional' at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Professional-W...pd_sim_b_img_2
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Don't let anyone tell you that your dreams can't come true. They are only afraid that theirs won't and yours will. ~ Robert Evans
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