Commentary

Plenty to see here

Updated: January 31, 2013, 4:24 PM ET
By Gary West | Special to ESPN.com

This week of the Insufferable Bowl would be the worst week of the year if not for one thing, horse racing.

This is the week, of course, that America celebrates with repugnant extravagance a sport that is the modern equivalent of gladiatorial combat …

This is the week, of course, that America celebrates with repugnant extravagance a sport that is the modern equivalent of gladiatorial combat, a sport that borrows much of its terminology from World War II (bomb, trenches, blitz) and frequently evokes metaphors of carnage and destruction, as in wondering whether Ray Lewis will blow up the San Francisco offense.

In 1882, 13 years after the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton, Oscar Wilde came here for a lecture tour of North America. And so perhaps the Irishman had football in mind when he said that America is the only country ever to go from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

Football, of course, embraces the same violent, martial ethic that ancient Rome found so inspiring. But having said that, I rather like football. I acknowledge the inherence of violence. As Cormac McCarthy said, there's no such thing as life without violence, and if society's hunger for it can be expressed in sport and confined for a few moments to a football field, great. No, it's not the hysterical celebration of a violent game that makes this potentially the worst week of the year.

Nor is it that football has become the perfect metaphor for modern socialism, for, as George Will described it, "subordinating the individual to the collectivity." No, the reason this week is so potentially disheartening is that somebody, sensing my indifference to the Insufferable Bowl, will inevitably ask, with a sardonic grin, "Why do you prefer horse racing to football? How can you do that to those horses?"

"Do what?"

"Make them race like that."

Most of time, I respond to such inquiries by pointing out that racehorses have been bred for hundreds of years to race, and that without racing they wouldn't even exist and that they define themselves, often in stirring style, by racing. But this week, because of the Insufferable Bowl and the relentless flapdoodle surrounding it, I'm less inclined to indulge such presumptuousness. And so I might respond to this Tartuffe by asking, "How can you, with your maniacal support of the Cowboys and your insistence on watching Sunday's annual celebration of violence, encourage large men to pump their bodies up to gargantuan proportions for no higher purpose than pummeling each other into oblivion? How can you find joy this weekend in all this mummery? And how can you enjoy watching these metaphorical battles where young warriors risk injuries that might not be apparent or felt for many years? If Teddy Rossevelt's son hadn't played football, the game probably would have been banned!"

Yes, I might respond that way, but I probably won't because horse racing has the potential to save the week -- and save me from an embarrassing outburst. This will be a telling week of racing.

Saturday's card at Santa Anita begins with an intriguing maiden race, where Tiz The Truth meets Misdeed.

Revolutionary returns Saturday at Aqueduct in the Withers, where he'll have the opportunity to prove he's capable of duplicating his flashy maiden performance. At Gulfstream Park, Verrazano, another whose maiden victory suggested Triple Crown potential, will stretch out to a mile, taking on Eton Blue and Gunderman. The Hutcheson Stakes has attracted a strong field that includes stakes winners Merit Man, Pataky Kid and Weekend Hideaway, as well as Forty Tales, Falling Sky, Honorable Dillon and the enigmatic Little Distorted.

Also in Florida, at Tampa Bay Downs, two prominent Canadians, Dynamic Sky and My Name Is Michael, will try to put themselves on the Triple Crown trail. My Name Is Michael will be making his first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Also among those entered are Divine Ambition, Speak Logistics and Northern Lion.

Saturday's card at Santa Anita begins with an intriguing maiden race, where Tiz The Truth meets Misdeed. And Flashback, already one of the most highly regarded 3-year-olds in the country after a single outing, will make his stakes debut in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, taking on Den's Legacy and He's Had Enough. Stakes winners Fed Biz, Handsome Mike and Stephanoatsee meet in the Strub Stakes, where Guilt Trip and Tritap are also entered.

And Sunday at Santa Anita, Game On Dude, a winner of $3.1 million in his career, is to begin his 2013 campaign in the San Antonio Stakes. After that, well, it'll be time to watch the Insufferable Bowl. For the commercials.

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