The key to making anyone who is unfamiliar with horse racing "get it"—assuming you can't take them to an actual racetrack—is showing them a great race.
Ten years ago I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, where many of my dormmates knew me as "the guy who likes horse racing." I didn't mind the title, and it turned out that simply explaining my passion sparked a lot of good friendships.
This was slightly before the YouTube explosion, but I did have a pretty good library of races on DVD. For example, the old ESPN Classic "Run for the Crown" series hosted by Chris Fowler was particularly well done (the 1997 Triple Crown being the best). But when I needed just one race to show someone who might never have seen a horse race before, my favorite was My Flag's 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
A showcase race has to illustrate pace and tactics; it can't be so subtle that it seems like the horses are merely running around in a circle. In this Juvenile Fillies, two of the top three betting choices were trained by D. Wayne Lukas and both had speed: even-money favorite Golden Attraction with jockey Gary Stevens and third-choice Cara Rafaela with Pat Day. Those fillies were 1-2 most of the race, and it was a cat-and-mouse game between Stevens and Day.
Meanwhile, second-choice My Flag, an Ogden Phipps homebred trained by Shug McGaughey and ridden by Jerry Bailey, sat several lengths back as the lone closer, a position that is similarly advantageous to lone speed.
Around the turn it became obvious that Golden Attraction and Stevens had their hands full with Cara Rafaela and Day. When Cara Rafaela headed and passed Golden Attraction at the top of the stretch, it forced both fillies to make their final kicks, softening them up for My Flag, who rolled past them in the final yards.
"Was it a tactical blunder by the Lukas fillies?!" questioned racecaller Tom Durkin after the thrilling stretch run.
Speaking of Durkin, a showcase race also needs a great call, and the 1995 Juvenile Fillies was vintage Durkin. As we in the industry well know, Durkin's forte is calling a race like a story instead of simply reciting the running order. His descriptors of an unfolding race are not only entertaining but also are educational for the newcomer who might not be able to pick up on minor nuances.
Describing the duel between the leaders, Durkin said: "Here comes Cara Rafaela now, putting more pressure on Golden Attraction, but Golden Attraction responds in kind and lets it out a notch." Coming down the stretch, with all three favorites still with a shot and the crowd at full volume, Durkin gives an epic call. As they hit the wire: "My Flag does it!"
Finally, a showcase race needs a great follow-up story, and in a race of fillies, the follow-up is that they all went on to be broodmares. In fact, each of the eight fillies in the field would produce stakes winners.
My Flag, a daughter of 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Personal Ensign, produced champion 2-year-old filly Storm Flag Flying. Runner-up Cara Rafaela became dam of champion 3-year-old colt and top sire Bernardini .
So, the next time you have a chance to introduce someone new to horse racing, consider showing them the fantastic 1995 Juvenile Fillies.
Daisy Phipps discusses My Flag and Storm Flag Flying with BloodHorse.com's Lenny Shulman.