Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This weekend at the Belmont Stakes, I'll Have Another is trying to capture horse racing's coveted Triple Crown. And many people will be cheering for the 3-year-old chestnut thoroughbred to win.

Commentator Frank Deford will not be one of them.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: To be perverse, I'd suggest that for the horse racing industry, it'd be best that I'll Have Another does not - yes, does not - win the Triple Crown this Saturday. Oh, certainly, absolutely, every year you want a horse to win the first two races - the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness - so that suspense builds, and a horse has a chance to win the Belmont and take the Triple Crown. But isn't it better to have the potential winner barely get beat so that the losing streak continues, building interest?

It's now been 34 years since we had a winner. And someday soon, someone will start to call it the curse of the Triple Crown. Terrific! Curses are even more attention-getting than streaks. I mean, suppose I'll Have Another does win Saturday. Next year, if another horse heads into the Belmont, going for the crown, everybody will just say ho-hum, they did that last year; what's the big deal?

OK, that's perversity. Now, specificity.

I don't want I'll Have Another to win the Belmont. Oh, he's a terrific little horse and his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, provides us with a wonderfully uplifting story. To horse and rider, I say good luck, godspeed; and if you win every race but the Belmont, good for you.

But the people in charge of I'll Have Another don't deserve the honor. The trainer is Doug O'Neill - a charming enough character, but a drug cheat nonetheless. In fact, he must start a 45-day suspension on July 1st, in California. Illinois has already suspended him. He's been fined nine times for horses testing over the regulatory threshold. Perhaps most grievous, horses he trains break down at twice the normal rate.

I'll Have Another's owner is J. Paul Reddam, who is invariably described as a former philosophy professor - which he was - as if he still strolls the hills and dales alone, contemplating his favorite philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. More recently, though, Reddam is president of CashCall, which refinances dubious mortgages. Three states have challenged him over violations of consumer protection laws. West Virginia has charged him with breaking usury laws, assessing annual interest as high as - yes - 99 percent.

All right, no official against judgment has yet been rendered against Reddam. But when the ethical standards of both men are taken together, can't we simply say: After 34 years, shouldn't a Triple Crown champion possess a better human pedigree?

Wittgenstein opined once: I sit astride life like a bad rider on a horse. I only owe it to the horse's good nature that I am not thrown off at this very moment.

I'm sorry, but I hope both O'Neil and Reddam get bucked at the Belmont. There is so much drug abuse in the sport, so many shady shenanigans, that when it comes to that next horse who finally wins the Triple Crown, I'll take another.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And if you want another chance to hear Frank Deford, listen on Wednesdays. Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday, here on MORNING EDITION. His latest book is a memoir, "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter."

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford