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Racing around the world to satisfy an itch

1/21/2002

For more than 25 years I've been in journalism, where cynical,
battle-hardened pros pose tough, probing questions. One of the best I've
ever heard was asked not by a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter,
but by a 9-year-old friend of my daughter.

"Mr. McNamara, why do you go all over the world just to watch horse
races?"

Uh, that's a very good question, Vanessa. I couldn't give an answer
that satisfied her, and three years later, I still couldn't. Not in one or
two sentences, anyway.

Unquestionably, long-distance travel broadens your outlook, which
is not necessarily comforting in a world where the ignorant and the
sheltered seem happiest. Then there's the damage that globetrotting does to
your bank account and sleep cycle, and no loneliness is more intense than
isolation in a strange land.

Why bother? You were there and now you're here. So what? As some
twisted wise man once said: "It is not necessary to live, but it is
necessary to travel." That's deep and dark, and not a good reply to a
curious child. To bail me out, I could have called on the Japanese proverb
"It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive." A bit more accessible and
upbeat, but not age appropriate and still skirting the issue.

I can't remember what I said to young Vanessa, probably something
like "I like seeing different places." Not untrue, but not something to make
anybody wish that they'd said it.

Being a writer is a great excuse to hit the road often, and I've
enjoyed doing dozens of travel/horse pieces from England, Ireland, France,
Hong Kong and Brazil. Heading off to faraway places breaks up the monotony,
and in an existence where the bookends are anxiety and boredom, you've got
to move. If I didn't, I'd regret it, and the things you don't do tend to
haunt you the most.

Travel is an acquired taste that soon becomes an urge, and once you
start, it's hard to stop. It's good for the head, too. I've always found
that the ideas and one-liners come a lot more easily when I'm in transit,
and the farther I go, the better.

So I've accumulated a pile of yellowing clips with datelines from
Hong Kong to Rio de Janeiro, from Los Angeles to Paris. As a kid, my only
ambition was to become a well-known writer, and the Internet sends my stuff
to the ends of the Earth. So I guess I'm famous. Hmm, looks like I'm a big
success, even if I'm not rich. So why am I still a restless, dissatisfied
soul?

I've been to most of the thoroughbred hot spots around the world,
but what have I learned? On those endless nights when sleep will not come
and my thoughts wander to these epic journeys, what comes to mind? Usually,
it's my next trip. Will it be a third visit to Royal Ascot in June or a
return to the Hong Kong International Races in December? Maybe I'll hit
Cheltenham in England again for the Olympics of steeplechasing in March, or
make it to Paris for another Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October. Maybe I
won't go anywhere exotic this year, but considering the possibilities is a
great way to pass the time. You need something to look forward to, even if
it never happens.

All right, Eddie boy, you may say, enough of your philosophical
drivel. How about providing something practical for your fans? OK, I
recommend the Chinese food in Hong Kong. I don't know how, but they really
have a touch with it there. And I give four stars to the local wines and
cheeses in Normandy. Not good enough? Wait, I do have some wisdom to pass
along. You might even take it to the bank.

If you ever find yourself in the bookies' ring at the Curragh or
watching the monitors in the walking ring in Deauville, here's my advice:
Follow the money but look for value. Ah, how profound and paradoxical, so
informative yet so confusing. Sorry, but that's about the best I can do. No
matter how far you wander, you don't get any closer to the eternal truths.
The answers are always just around the corner, and you never get there. But
don't let that ruin your trip.