Where Your Horses Run Free


I guess I should’ve known that the wonderful news coming out of greater Minneapolis wouldn’t last.

A week ago, the enlightened management of Canterbury Park in Shakopee slashed takeout rates; providing their customers with a great gift that will keep on giving. Just two days later, a spokeswoman for Paisley Park in nearby Chanhassen announced the irreplaceable loss of one of Minnesota’s greatest sons.

Bad news travels fast on Twitter. That’s how I found out Prince had died. Maybe he didn’t mean much to you, but count me among the gobsmacked. As the news spread, I looked across rows of cubicles and wondered what, if anything, he meant to the twenty and thirty-somethings who are increasingly taking over my workplace. Hadn’t they seen that halftime show at the 2007 Super Bowl? Didn’t they know?

The office work stopped cold for a few minutes, but then quickly returned to normal. Most of the 65 people I follow on Twitter – weighted overwhelmingly towards racing folk – also seemed to be handling this terrible news just fine. This was the moment I realized that one of our inalienable rights as Americans is the right to choose your own Elvis.

My Elvis was an impossible cross of Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard and James Brown. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, but his missionary work was spreading his gospel on the ecstasies found in physical attraction, erotic love, and rock and roll. He made some people – paging you, Tipper Gore – very nervous.

If right about now you are thinking “What on God’s green earth does this have to do with horse racing?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Prince didn’t just make people nervous. He flirted. He astounded. He put on shows that drove thousands into a state of communal excitement that could often bubble over into a shared, ecstatic delirium. Kind of like what a great horse race can do.

Although the word currently suffers from overuse, Prince was indeed an artist. In two of his greatest – and filthiest – songs, he invokes horses as metaphor for the sublime, ineffable experience of being thoroughly and exhilaratingly alive.

In “Raspberry Beret”, a young man’s first sexual adventure takes place on “old man Johnson’s farm” before an audience of intrigued and thoughtful equines (“the rain sounds so cool when it hits the barn roof, and the horses wonder who you are”).

And in “Little Red Corvette”, the horse and horsepower metaphors abound, as a too-fast temptress drives her latest jockey to “the place where (her) horses run free”. Prince asks himself the questions that horseplayers ask of horses. Did he have enough class? Did he have enough gas? Oh, yeah!