on horse racing trivia

Thanks to the Internet, everything has a “National ______ Day” now, and everyone knows it.  Today, Twitter has buzzed about National Trivia Day.  I had never heard of this before…but trivia is something I don’t need a specific day to celebrate or enjoy.  I obsess over trivia daily.

I grew up thwomping my siblings at Trivial Pursuit and Junior Jeopardy!, and I never had to study much for tests because I could recall the arcane names, years, and formulae from the lectures.  I always joke that I would have been a lot more excited about adulthood had I known that A Thing You Could Do involved going out to a bar on a weeknight, drinking beer, and taking a test.  I have been going to pub quizzes ever since I was old enough to get in.

Horse racing is the perfect sport for trivia geeks.  When someone asks me how I got into horse racing, my love of trivia inevitably comes up.   I didn’t grow up around the sport.  But, I did watch the Triple Crown races every year, and liked remembering who had won the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont in each of the years I had watched them.  Even before I started going to the track, I had begun to read about racing, and my rabbit holes usually meandered back through pedigrees.  I would read about a horse, learn a few things, and then click on the page for the sire or dam.  Before I knew it the clock had stricken four in the morning, names and dates floated through my brain, and my browser pointed to the Darley Arabian’s Wikipedia page.

Oops.

I often wonder how useful my capacity for learning trivia actually is.  After all, we have the Internet now.  Most of this stuff I spend so many hours reading, reviewing, and retaining lives in Equibase.  Why does it matter that I remember a number, a date, or a half-sibling that anyone can look up on their cell phone?  A database recalls information more quickly and accurately than that grey piece of meat between my ears.

However, after a few years of following horse racing closely, the facts that have taken root in my mind have occasionally coalesced into something far more valuable.  Occasionally.  Most of it still feels like individual points of data, or very limited collections of it: a single horse, a single race, a single broodmare or sire and their progeny.  I remember this fact, and this fact, and this fact, and they shed this well-defined piece of light on my handicapping or analysis of a race.

But, sometimes it starts to feel synthesized.  It starts to feel like context.  It feels like context when I’m interviewing a trainer after a stakes race, and the interview goes somewhere I didn’t expect it to — but where I still know enough about this new branch of conversation to ask intelligent questions.  It feels like context when I’m chatting with a friend of mine who does not follow horse racing, and they ask me a question, and I have vivid examples to illustrate the answer to the question.  Even if I don’t have the answer, it feels like context when I can illustrate why the question they asked was more subtle, nuanced, or controversial than they thought when they asked it.

I have a long way to go — you can only see so much during three and a half years at the track, even going as frequently as I go.  The races, the mornings, the people, the horses?  They’re what connect all those raw facts and give them life.

In moments when those connections appear, it makes retaining all that trivia worth the space it takes up it my brain.

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