Big Freddy was folding his morning newspaper when I joined him for coffee.
“What’s new?” I asked as I settled into my side of the booth.
“Orb won one,” Freddy said.
“Orb who?” I asked.
“Orb — the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in a mudslide,” Freddy said.
“The world’s coming apart at the seams, and you come up with a horse winning a race as being what’s new?” I asked.
“You asked for it,” Freddy said. “This horse winning this race for Shug McGaughey was new. Shug’s spent a lifetime trying to win one. Never has. Has now.”
“Shug was the jockey?” I asked.
“Shug was the trainer, and while I’m at it, Joel Rosario was the jockey and the track was muddy,” Freddy said. “Orb came from way back wearing a mud pack and all Rosario had to do was hang on and steer.”
“Enough already, I wasn’t thinking about horse races,” I said.
“You should,” Freddy said. “Cleans the mind of half the world from going to hell in a hack. The Derby is special because it makes news once a year. You can depend on it. Let us be thankful. All we’ve been getting is the bombers this, and the bombers that, and we needed a break.”
“Well, bombing the Boston Marathon was once in a lifetime of news,” I said.
“It better be,” Freddy said. “We don’t want to be hearing anything like that again. But the Derby? You can bet on that.”
“For those who like horse racing,” I said.
“And we are legion,” Freddy said. “But fans pick and choose. Sports are where we escape to whatever it is we need to escape from. Some have seasons. Horse racing goes on somewhere all the time. “
“So do people racing, but there’s only one Boston Marathon a year, and if you’re trying to make a point about something I’m at a loss,” I said.
“It’s the side stories and back stories that give life to sporting events,” Freddy said. “That will go on for nobody knows how long because there are wheels within wheels that become part of history. Bad news, good news — histories are full of footnotes.”
“So are political campaigns,” I said.
“And every one of them is a learning experience,” Freddy said. “Win or lose, sports, politics — the beats go on. Horses can pull up lame. Politicians win or lose because of foot in mouth disease. It’s bad news for losers, but there’s always tomorrow.”
“So, I take it you picked the winner last Saturday,” I said.
“Sometimes, I pick a winner,” Freddy said, “but win or lose, the thing is the Derby’s an all day event and everybody gets a run for their money. That’s really the upside of all of sports - fans getting a run for their money.”
“Well the downside of the Boston Marathon certainly overwhelmed the upside,” I said.
“Wrong,” Freddy said. “Running in a foot race is personal. Marathoners run against their personal best times. There are always downsides, but I agree, there’s been nothing like the one in Boston. There are marathons everywhere, but the immediate response and what followed makes Boston’s the world classic.
“You can bet on this. Next year’s will make for a different kind of history.”
Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and a staff columnist.