Sportswriting is daredevil work, with life and limb on the line every day. Tom Boswell once went bowling (research, we call this) and a tendon in his wrist went ker-blooey and rolled up like a window shade. Ken Denlinger slid into home two weeks ago and the bruise is 17 shades of purple. Only last weekend, Paul Attner hit a golf shot that hit him in the forehead (trust me, it's too painful to explain).
All this we do for our dear readers, who without such research would be denied a greater understanding of sport. Besides which, it gets us out of dusting the house. No one has taken this duty more seriously than Andy Beyer, our racing writer, who wouldn't ride a horse on a bet but who is limping about with a horsey injury.
Two weeks ago, Andy wrote hearts and flowers on the tragic end of Hostage's career. The thoroughbred might have won the Kentucky Derby, except, as writers such as Beyer point out, thoroughbreds are majestic creatures of paradoxical fragility. This means they are cute horses with skinny bones and them bones break a lot.
The week of the Derby, Hostage went for a run in the mud and broke a sesamoid. That's a little bone in the ankle. It is the most common disabling injury on the track, an injury that nearly killed the great runner Hoist the Flag a decade ago.
While Hostage won't race again, he can go on with the rest of life. For a classic thoroughbred, life is a cabaret: a clean stall, all the hay and oats it can eat, and a few moments alone with a different filly every day.
I know this is slow getting to Andy Beyer, but it will make better sense if you know Beyer once was a long-distance runner. Maybe 6 feet tall, maybe 150 pounds if his pockets are filled with losing tickets, Beyer ran marathons until something went wrong in his neck.
Even acupuncture failed to put Andy back in running order, and so he bought a 12-speed racing bicycle, one of those fancy contraptions that cost about $50 an ounce, like perfume.
"Runners say, 'Gee, the bike's so expensive," Beyer said, adding that he told his doubting friends, "Think of all the money I'll save on orthopedic bills."
And so Beyer went to his doctor last Monday complaining of pain that developed in the ball of his foot during a bicycle race.
"You have," the doctor said after looking at the horse writer's X-rays, "a fractured sesamoid."
Well, you could have knocked Andy over with a tipsheet.
He had stepped off his bicycle during a clogged-up start, sort of tilting over he was going so slowly, and jerked his foot out of the toe clip and strap holding it to the pedal.
By race's end, in the full pain of journalistic research, Andy knew it was time to see his orthopedic man again.
First, Hoist the Flag. Later, Hostage. Now, Andy.
As with those other great thoroughbreds, speculation on Beyer's future began immediately.
Would he ever race again?
Would he be put out to stud?
Or would the sesamoid injury leave him worthless on all counts, which would mean . . .
"I have talked to the owner, and we are exploring all possibilities," said George Solomon, The Post's sports editor. "We can put Beyer on medication and run him again, or we can retire him to stud, or, not so much fun for sure, we could destroy him and spread his ashes over Bowie Race Course. I'm awaiting word from the owner."
Beyer said he wanted to write this story himself, but couldn't think of anything to say after a first paragraph that would have been, "What do Hoist the Flag and The Washington Post turf writer have in common? Some would say they are great thoroughbreds. Some would say they are great studs. In fact, they both had fractured sesamoids."
Anyway, Beyer wants everyone to know he finished the 15-mile bicycle race, pain or not.
"That's more," he said, "than those gutless horses do. Something breaks, they immediately collapse. My finish, I thought, was reminiscent of Graustark finishing the '66 Blue Grass on three legs, pounding across the finish line with a broken coffin bone in one hoof."