Whenever I visit my family, who are scattered up and down the East Coast and as far west as St. Louis, I invariably touch down at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. There, like a strong wind, the tug of my Washington, D.C., roots pulls me back to the more than two decades I spent in that city. I relish the chance to read the Washington Post, the paper I was raised on; the paper that, as a journalist, has always been my standard. This past visit--as 2005 was winding down--was no different. I raced through BWI to make a connecting flight back to Hartford, grabbed the Post, and settled in for an hour of the best of both worlds: information and pleasure. I turned first to the Sports section, as I always do, and after wading through reports of Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell's return, another loss by the Washington Wizards, despite Gilbert Arenas' 47 points, and what seemed like too many pages of high school game reports, I came across a small, two-inch box with the headline "To Our Readers." Nothing could have prepared me for the announcement that due to a "drop in popularity in the sport" among readers, the need to expand coverage to new teams such as Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals, and "emerging powers in men's and women's college basketball," the Post would no longer publish what it termed "daily statistical horse racing information." In other words, entries and race charts from Maryland's Laurel and Pimlico would no longer appear--all eight inches of them--on that page. The notice reassured the handful of fans who apparently remain that Andrew Beyer and John Scheinman would continue to cover the sport "as before," which means occasional stories and columns about big races. This is an announcement I have not taken cavalierly; the Post and its horse racing information have both history and resonance in my life. My father, a track patron, studied that "daily statistical horse racing information" before a trip to Pimlico and Laurel, and was possibly reading that very page one hot July evening when a cool breeze suddenly wafted through his heart and swept him to a far-too-early death. More recently, during stops at BWI with the Post, I discovered an old college acquaintance owns Maryland horses (the name was too specific to belong to anyone else), and I have also discovered with delight through an alumni newsletter from George Washington University (no doubt, one of those "emerging powers...in basketball") that a former roommate had listed "going to Laurel Park" as among her favorite things to do. A realist, I know horse racing has been losing fans. But to cast it off like ashes from yesterday's newspapers smoldering in the family fireplace seems so final and, yes, cruel. Crueler to me was the Post's coldly-worded statement that "in surveys, our readers have told us that horse racing ranks at the bottom of sports in which they are interested." If it has room to sink further down the greatest hits list, the lack of "daily statistical information" will certainly consign it to horse racing hell--in a state fighting to keep it alive. Having made my living in newspapers, I also understand the need to conserve resources and satisfy readers. But charts? We're not talking 45-inch features here, or even 20-inch news stories. The type is probably too small for the typical horse racing fan to read without a magnifying glass, and surely not a space burner. I also understand the need for increased coverage of the Nationals: efforts to bring an MLB franchise to Washington were the subject of countless columns I wrote in my small Connecticut newspaper, the subject of which I'm confident would have ranked "at the bottom of sports they are interested in" by my readers.
I certainly won't retaliate by refusing to fork over the 37 cents for a Post when I am in the D.C. area. But to scrutinize the small print of the Sports section will be painful not only because of the absence of entries and results, but for what I will take henceforth as a reminder the "daily statistical horse racing information" is like the generations that read it: gone with the wind. A friend half-seriously suggested the Post's decision was prompted by "a dying sport covered by a dying media source." I am wincing at both pronouncements. Perhaps I need to be more dispassionate about my passions.