It was good that I got to Lisa Sammons on the Tuesday that I did. A couple days later, she was flat on her back in bed. It turns out the dentist extracted her wisdom teeth. Luckily, I was the one to extract a bit of her wisdom. "They wanted to do it on Thursday, but there was no way I was gonna risk missing the Belmont," she revealed to me by way of an Instant Message. Computer messaging in real time is how 15-year-olds such as Lisa communicate, although it was a letter that she sent to me complaining of my disregard for Scrappy T in a piece that I wrote for MSNBC.com that brought her to my attention. Lisa got hooked on racing at age 10 when she saw a photo of Skip Away online. Then, she saw Fusaichi Pegasus win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and has been watching races on television ever since. Living in Savannah, Ga., the closest that Lisa has come to being at the racetrack was seeing some trials run in Aiken, S.C. In place of the racetrack, the Internet serves as Lisa's source for information. "I have quite a few Internet buddies that are racing fans," she admitted, but nobody in her circle of friends has an interest in the sport. Lisa's father abides by her addiction, but he believes that she'll leave it behind when she's older. Lisa is planning a trip to Kentucky. If time permits, she may get to Churchill Downs, but taking in a few stud farms is definitely part of her itinerary. "A sale catalogue can keep me occupied for hours because pedigrees are fun to study," she typed into another Instant Message. Lisa, soon to be a junior in high school, is pondering the University of Kentucky for her future. "The TV broadcasts are my No. 1 peeve," she messaged. "The announcers do a horrible job of filling in the time between races." Edalee Harwell, another person who contacted me as a result of something I wrote, has the same ax to grind. But there are differences between Edalee and Lisa that make the similarity of their opinions worth noting. Edalee is 83, a full 68 years removed from Lisa in age.
"I hope that what you're doing is giving the TV industry a little kick in the pants," is how the feisty Edalee surprised me on the telephone. She wonders why the commentators waste precious television time asking trainers if they believe that their horses have a chance. "Why not use the time to focus on the pedigrees?" she asked. "Every horse has a history." Like Lisa, Edalee is a student of lineage. She keeps an eye on Louis Quatorze, who is somehow related to one of three horses that she's owned. A devotee of dressage, Edalee still rides if someone will tack up her horse and hoist her aboard. Recently, she competed in an event that required that the combined age of rider and horse equal 100. But unlike Lisa, Edalee's first fascination with horses wasn't on the computer, but on a curbstone. "I used to sit in the dark waiting for the horse pulling the milk wagon to come by," she revealed. "At the age of nine I discovered the reason for learning to read--my dad, a sportswriter, explained what the entries and results in the newspaper meant." Once that lesson was learned, Eddie Orcutt began to take his daughter Edalee to Caliente. Although Edalee hasn't been to a racetrack in five years, she can offer a variety of ways to pick winners. Her most imaginative method involves matching the color of the jockey's silks to the color of the saddlecloth. "Don't scoff. I picked Wilko in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile that way," she teased, pretending not to know that each of the Breeders' Cup saddlecloths is purple. In a sport that derives its sustenance from a betting slip, of what value to the people who conduct racing are a teenager and a dowager who don't bet a dime at the track?
The very existence of fans, as rich in their passion as they are, elevates racing into the status of a sub-culture. This characteristic, which reaches beyond the betting and the newsmakers, may be the real reason why people with money are drawn into its realm.