Breaking Stride

Five plays for the neophyte (Prelude)

May 21, 2017

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by Trey Nosrac


Let me predict that you will not complete reading the following paragraph. Try it.

“From a little after four o’clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for 43 summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that sight and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.”

I would place a small wager that most of you did get halfway through until you became distracted. This has little to do with intelligence; it has plenty to with time, with patience and with waiting.

Our test paragraph opens a novel that won the Nobel Prize written by William Faulkner that is titled Absalom, Absalom! Often considered the finest book written on the American Civil War, Faulkner’s first sentence was not the only “wordy” sentence in the book. The Guinness Book of World Records says the “Longest Sentence in Literature” is a sentence from Absalom, Absalom! checking in at a staggering total of 1,288 words.

In 1936, this was a very popular book. This is not 1936 and marketing Absalom, Absalom! in a Twitter world would be a very heavy lift. What played well, and sold well, almost a century ago struggles in today’s marketplace. This is true of books, movies, sports and life in general. A 2017 novel would open more quickly, something like –

“Across from me at the café, Laurie’s latest romantic conquest sipped a beer. I might kill him tonight.”

Harness racing is a poster child for not keeping pace with the times. We live in a world where attention is hard to get. It is a world where you have a few precious seconds to hook your audience, and should you hook them, you must somehow keep their attention constantly. The slow reveal just does not work. This sort of stinks, but as the cliché goes, “It is what it is.”

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time – Leo Tolstoy

Leo (another author who wrote very long books) got this one wrong. Waiting is not what it used to be. In 1936, people waited for the delivery of the Atlantic Monthly Magazine and slowly savored every word. They would read the magazine twice, share it with friends and neighbors, then eagerly anticipate the delivery of the next issue.

Today I get riders that whine if I hit a few traffic lights and it takes one minute longer than predicted to reach the calculated pickup point. They are irritated when their app takes an extra nanosecond to load. They check their cell phone a dozen times each hour. These folks are not traveling in 1936, they are not likely to read Faulkner, nor will they latch onto a sport that moves at the speed of a glacier.

I have several faults. My ex-girlfriend has a Facebook page full of them, but impatience is not one of them. Since I rarely know where I am going, I see no point in rushing. Maybe that is why this sport grabbed me, but slow is not for normal people. Our sport is out of step with the times, we struggle to adapt. Slow is the MO in harness horseracing. Consider some waiting periods and how they look to a person who for some unfathomable reason takes a look into joining our merry band.

• Insemination to the starting gate (years with a 50/50 chance to race)

• A yearling purchased at sale (a 10-month project before it reaches the starting gate)

• Seriously handicapping the races in a race program (at least an hour)

• The time between races (20 minutes)

• The time from post time until the actual start of the race (several more minutes)

That is a lot of waiting. In 1936, these waits were tolerable, even embraced. In 2017, those of us willing to wait are as rare as canoes in the Kalahari Desert. We have to change the structure of this sport to fill these voids. We have to get new people to play our game. What are we waiting for? We have to begin to partially jettison true handicapping and find new ways for new people to spend money on horseracing. If they are to play our game, they will likely play it on a hand-held device.

If you are a traditionalist, the next several columns that will run in this space will seem ridiculous. If you are a fan of incrementalism, please skip them. We are going fast and we are going crazy. We will not paying much attention to those of you with patience.
Even the style of the next string of ideas will be more Twitterature than literature; a few brief lines, odd formats, no overthinking, no over explaining, a few emoji’s, a few forwarded photos, wham, bam, in and out. You know, short and snappy – like modern life. Each pitch will target people under the age of forty who live on their phones and in their social networks.
Each of the entries in this series are written for people who might be willing to have a gambling fling but will not endure agonizing over a race program. The theme will be ways to engage people who do not know us, but to whom we desperately need to remain relevant.

Next week –
Play #1 “The Amazing First Fling of the Mysterious Mentor”

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