W.C. Heinz’s “Death of a Racehorse” owes none of its fame to nostalgia. Written in one hour, in one draft, on a manual typewriter, on deadline, the 1949 classic is hailed by many in the industry as quite possibly the perfect story. Jeff MacGregor called it “the Gettysburg Address sportswriting. A run of words so slender and moving that nothing can be added or taken from it.”
It tells the story of a Wednesday afternoon race at Jamaica, and the breakdown and euthanization of Air Lift, “son of Bold Venture, full brother of Assault.” But it was, for trackgoers and bettors, and if not for Heinz, just another race.
Joey Kulkin contacted the Keeneland reference library and obtained the results of the sixth race. It’s a piece of journalism history, and also a totem for journalism itself: it must be magic that something immortal can be conjured from something so mundane. That Air Lift, who was two pounds overweight, “bobbled sharply leaving the three-eights pole and suffered a compound fracture of the left ankle” is just one way to write the story.