Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ and Other Signature Songs of Racing

Pop Culture
"The Best is Yet to Come," performed by Kristin Chenoweth at the Breeders' Cup and Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" played before the Haskell are two signature songs of racing. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire/Wikimedia Commons)

As we venture into the heart of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, several of horse racing's signature races are fast approaching. One of the unique common threads between many of horse racing's main events is the signature song ... a lasting (sometimes) connection between music and horse racing.

Fans following the elite 3-year-olds from the Triple Crown trail compete in the $1 million betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes will hear Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” during the post parade.

I love a stakes race with a signature song, and the Haskell is one of my favorite examples.

Here is a look at some of the races that embrace this tradition:

The betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes: “Born to Run”

In choosing this song, Monmouth Park, located in Oceanport, N.J., celebrates one of the state’s favorite sons. Although Springsteen sings about a night on the town with Wendy, it is easy to apply the refrain “born to run” to horse racing. Other key lines also apply, like the opening lyric: “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream.” 

The Kentucky Derby: “My Old Kentucky Home”

While I applaud Monmouth for selecting a modern song, one of the most iconic moments in horse racing is the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” during the post parade of the Kentucky Derby. Written by Stephen Foster in 1852, it is the Kentucky state song. I can’t sing my home state’s song in its entirety, but I can sing Kentucky’s. This tradition is a slice of Americana.

KENTUCKY DERBY POST PARADE

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

The Preakness Stakes: “Maryland, My Maryland”

Pimlico also chooses to play their state song before the running of the Preakness Stakes. I haven’t added it to any of my playlists because the tune is the same as “O Christmas Tree” and the lyrics begin with “The despot’s heel is on thy shore,” but I applaud Maryland for tying the middle jewel of the Triple Crown to its history and for having a signature song.

The Belmont Stakes: “New York, New York”

Belmont Park experimented with this race’s signature song in recent history. Until 1996, the song was the Duke Ellington version of “The Sidewalks of New York.” Then the song was changed to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Flirting with contemporary music, NYRA chose Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” for 2010, but this song controversially reigned for only one year, and the track returned to Sinatra and “New York, New York” for 2011. When American Pharoah paraded at Santa Anita Park three weeks after winning the 2015 Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, the replay of the race was played, followed by a recording of this song. Trainer Bob Baffert said, “I got goose bumps when they played ‘New York, New York.’ That song just hit me. It’s been in my mind ever since they played it before the [Belmont].”

The Breeders’ Cup Classic: “The Best is Yet to Come”

The theme “The Best is Yet to Come” celebrates the second half of the horse racing season and the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” series. It has a swanky, jazzy feel that captures the style and class of the two-day championships and is the perfect tune to bring horses to the post for the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

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