Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi

The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

A Nation’s Challenge and “Seabiscuits”


Today was closing day at Santa Anita Park. That means the season of horse racing has come to a close at Santa Anita Park and I was there.

Today, we took the boys to see the ponies run.

Previously, we lived in Baltimore MD, home of The Preakness at Pimlico Race Track. The Preakness is one leg in the Triple Crown. In fact we lived right around the corner from Pimlico and we always thought about going to the track for a day at the races. For some reason, we never actually made the 2 minute trip to Pimlico and never saw a race in person.

Today we drove 35 minutes to Santa Anita Park and we experienced our first day at the races. It was amazing. I learned a lot about a lot of things.

First of all, I saw a dad with his 3 sons, ranging from the ages of 9-14. Incredibly, he was teaching them how to bet on the races.Is this considered normal? Are pre-teens supposed to be betting on horse races? Needless to say, this was disturbing to me.

Second, I have known about Santa Anita for some time now. One of the most poignant films that I have ever seen is Seabiscuit. The story is simply about a horse, its owner, trainer and jockey. The spirits of these characters has been broken. The horse wins race after unlikely race lifting the spirits of its team and the ultimately the entire nation. As the United States tries to extricate itself from the Great Depression the horse represents their struggle. The story is powerful, the cinematography is beautiful and the point is made subtly.

A key part of the film occurs at Santa Anita Park. Santa Anita has a statue of Seabiscuit as well as a small Seabiscuit museum. So, ever since seeing the film I have wanted to visit Santa Anita. Today I saw Santa Anita.

It is beautiful in Pasadena and Santa Anita did not disappoint in that regard. The races were not terribly exciting, especially because I did not place any bets. What I loved was the pageantry. The trumpets, men in suits, shiny jockey uniforms and play-by-play in the “Queens’s English” all made the atmosphere unique.

Santa Anita Park

Due to the Seabiscuit connection, I remembered the film and its message. The Nation was recovering in 1937 and a National sports hero sparked the hearts of the people. It happened again in history in 1980. The “Miracle in Ice” captured the imagination of the country  as a ragged group of young men defeated the seasoned, clinical, (evil) USSR Soviet National Hockey Team in the 1980 Winter Olympics Medal Round. The surprising victory launched (you must watch that clip) Al Michaels‘s career and inspired a nation to rebound from a tough decade (the 70’s).

Then I read about the Hungarian Seabiscuit in the NY Times. In Hungary, the country is recovering from economic turmoil and they’ve given their hearts to a horse. An undefeated horse that is inspiring their nation.

We need a mascot. America is ready to recover, to rebuild, to rethink its priorities (as I have mentioned previously), I think we just need something inspiring to get the juices flowing.

Will we need to wait for the 2010 Winter Games? Will America’s National Pastime provide a true hero?

All of this, from a short outing at Santa Anita Park…

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