On Sunday, the filly Treve put on a clinic in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe when she demolished her rivals with ease. It was a satisfying race because everyone knew the best horse won. Beyond that though, it was the atmosphere of the entire day that reminded me why I love sports in general and horse racing in particular.
While I am a firm believer that whoever crosses the finish line first in a race deserves to be the winner (barring any impediment), we all know the best horse does not always win the race. They might have an off day or bad racing luck. Their competition might have the single best day of their career. The racing gods deem it not to be so. For whatever reason, it happens. It's why the races are run in actuality and not on paper.
Last year I was lucky enough to attend the Arc in person for the first time, and I loved the experience. I wrote then, and I stand by it now, that if you can ever make your way there, do it. That said, I left with a bit of a feeling that the best horse did not win the race.
Japan's incredibly talented and super game Orfevre got caught at the wire by the filly Solemia. This year, he was back to try and avenge his loss, but it was not to be. He once again finished second, but this time it was easier to take because Treve was never going to lose the race. Maybe Orfevre is just too much of a gentleman to beat the ladies, but Treve was also the best horse on the course, regardless of gender.
Although I was sad Orfevre didn't win, I was glad it was an honest defeat. If he or his fellow country mate Kizuna had won, though, I am pretty sure Longchamp Racecourse would have collapsed from the explosion of joy. It is estimated that 6,000 Japanese traveled to Paris to watch their country's horses run. Stop and think about that for a second. Considering the countries are 6,000 miles a part, it is some what astonishing.
Through good fortune I unexpectedly attend the Arc again this year, and I can bear witness to the passion of the Japanese race fans. Unrelenting faith in your team is something every sports fan can relate to, no matter what language you speak and regardless of if that team happens to be a horse and his caregivers or a team in the more traditional sense.
They love Orfevre and wanted the chance to be there when Japan finally wins the Arc. I have no doubt that they will be back in force the next time Japan has a runner that looks up to the task. That need to see it for yourself, to leave the TV behind and soak up the sounds and sights of seeing a major sporting event with your own eyes, is one of the most important cogs in the wheel that makes sports work.
Because France's signature race is currently sponsored by the country of Qatar, and one of the most popular horses on the card was Japanese, being an American at the track this year was even more novel than it would be most years.
One of the funnier moments came when I was standing outside the parade ring and noticed a picture of Peyton Manning on the back banner of the Racing Post, which is similar to America's Daily Racing Form.
As I am a Denver Broncos fan born and raised, seeing a picture of my team's quarterback on the back of a racing publication while standing in Paris was a bit surreal. I got caught staring at the photo and explained why I was so fascinated by it. The European journalist holding said paper and I began chatting about the NFL and how it is starting to gain momentum overseas mainly because of all of the betting opportunities.
One of the first things I heard from friends and family after letting them know I was back in the country from this weekend's trip was: "The race looked amazing, but did you get to see the game against the Cowboys?" The answer was no, as given the time change I am pretty sure I was asleep in Paris, but the question kept making me flash back to that brief conversation at Longchamp.
That moment, combined with the thousands upon thousands of supporters for Orfevre, reminded me why sports are so popular, and it goes beyond just simple competition. There is something to be said for the camaraderie, the tradition and the relatability that accompanies sporting events. I may not understand the particulars of why someone loves say, golf, but I can appreciate their affection for it because I love horse racing.
Horse racing is even more unique than most sports because of its global nature. The horses may run in a different direction, but the basics of the game are the same. If you love horse racing in one country, you can identify with it with ease in another.
The power of sport transcends language and time and place. One hundred years from now, Treve's performance will still be impressive. One hundred years from now, fans of a team will still travel for just the chance they might be able to say they were there when. One hundred years from now, sports will bring people together in a way that can't be duplicated.
There is something comforting in that knowledge. So here's to Treve and her connections for their victory, Orfevre and his supporters for being so graceful in defeat, and to sports fans the world over for being themselves. It sure makes life a little more fun.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.