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Day at the Races

Saturday was races all day on TV. First, Saratoga and some grade 1 stakes. It was a steaming hot day in New York State. In the 138th running of the Travers, my favorite colt, Street Sense, did his usual killer charge. Maybe the heat got to him -- over the last furlong, he looked a little tired and Grasshopper stayed up to challenge him. But Street is a game horse, so he found more, and pushed ahead by half a length. The crowd was smiling at jockey Calvin Borel's shrieks of happiness as he galloped to the winner's circle. Borel knows he and his colt are on their way to the Breeder's Cup.

Later that day, it was on to Bristol and the Sharpie 500, and thunder of engines instead of thump of hoofs. I'm still in touch with Terri O'Connell and her planned return to NASCAR racing later this year, so I watch the weekend Cup races without fail now.

As I watched, I started thinking how auto racing is a reinvention of horse racing. Half-mile tracks like Bristol are known as bullrings. But the original bullrings were for racehorses. There was a half-mile bullring right in my home town in Montana, with a three-day race meet every year. I spent a lot of time at that track when I was a kid, walking hots and making myself useful so I could hang with the Thoroughbreds. There was a whole bullring circuit across the West in those days, meet to meet at the little tracks all summer, then back to California for the winter. Bullring races were full of rough stuff -- jockeys beating each other, horses lugging in, big scrambles around those tight turns.

Some of the first American auto racing was done on modified race-horse tracks, both half mile and mile ovals. People found there was a limit on how they could push cars for speed around those flat turns, because a car balances differently than a galloping horse and might get loose. A horse creates his own balance by banking himself. In barrel racing, where a horse is literally turning on a dime, he is practically at 45 degrees around the barrel. Solution for auto racing: bank the turns.

The famous turns at Bristol have a 36 degree bank. This speedway used to be notorious for a four-wheel version of that four-legged bullring rough stuff -- drivers wrecking each other, tempers flaring, etc. But the owners just widened the track a little, so cars can pass easier. Saturday's race went off without incidents.

Winner Carl Edwards didn't shriek when he got to victory lane, but he did do his famous back-flip off the top of his car. He's a win closer to the Nextel Cup. -Patricia Nell Warren