William Finnegan—a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1987, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of extended exploration of horse racing in the current (May 24) issue of the magazine—describes how he ended up with the assignment to do the story, and the array of journalistic attributes and experience it required. We discuss Santa Anita Park, a venerable Southern California track, and an anchor of Finnegan’s article for a variety of reasons, not least that it was where 37 horses died in 2019. Finnegan explains the confluence of factors that helped account for this string of deaths: A protracted draught, followed by unusually intense rainfall, prompting Santa Anita officials to “seal the track,” a measure for mitigating a rain-soaked, super-soggy track but one that imperils the horses running on it. In his piece Finnegan also provides some detailed glimpses of Santa Anita as an enterprise whose heyday is well behind it, with few betting windows needed to accommodate the small pod of patrons, and vast rows of urinals going similarly unused—part of a portrait of horse racing fans as both a steadily shrinking constituency over the last three decades, and predominantly working-class, notwithstanding the kooky hats and moneyed garb of the Kentucky Derby attendees and other well to doTriple Crown fans who appear in TV coverage of those races. Finnegan touches on the Stronach Group, the Canadian corporate behemoth that owns multiple race tracks, including Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park in Florida, and who some view as seeking to bring reforms to racing, while others feel the conglomerate is aiming to block truly meaningful reformation efforts. We talk about Lasix, about doping, and about Bob Baffert, the white-haired veteran trainer whose horses not infrequently test positive for banned drugs, most recently Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/05/24/can-horse-racing-survive)
ALSO: I spoke briefly with Amber Leigh, a managing partner at Ybor City Vegan Deli, a relatively new eatery in a growing string of vegan delis that, Leigh explained, began in Dunedin, added Brandon, then Ybor City, with a Sarasota location expected to open just days after our interview. She provided a brief tour through the menu, highlighting some items that have emerged as favorites, including the McBluffin (you heard me), while noting the Deli serves breakfast all day. Leigh also addresses how this deli craze unfolding in this part of Florida connects to–and reflects–the wider embrace of vegan eating in the state and many parts of the country. (https://www.facebook.com/yborvegandeli/, https://www.instagram.com/yborcityvegandeli/)
COMEDY CORNER: Jim Gaffigan’s “Horse Racing” [excerpt of “Horses”] (https://www.jimgaffigan.com)
MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals
NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: We didn’t play “Name That Animal Tune” today.