134th Kentucky Derby
The term instant classic has become a favourite quip amongst sports casters and fans alike and no other North American sporting event has been able to achieve the annual success of being branned an instant classic like the Kentucky Derby. The NBA Finals often fall well short of the excitement generated by the previous rounds. The World Series seems to take an entire year to reach it climax which often exposes itself in the very wee hours of early October. The Super Bowl is no more then a big money circus travelling from town to town like an orphan carney, fleecing unsuspecting town folk of their Harvest Dance. The Kentucky Derby is a classic every year if for no other reason then the most exciting two minutes in sports happens only once a year. Regardless of the outcome of the race thousands will flock to Churchill Downs to drink mint-juleps and wager heavily in an egotistical attempt to validate their opinions in front of the drunken throngs. (If we could only generate this kind of "window action" on election night)
The race it self is never short on build-up, being the first leg of North Americas horse racing Triple Crown, The Kentucky Derby always generate a special variety of attention. The derby is the first leg of North Americas most cherished horsemen award the triple crown an award that has not found a winner in twenty-eight years, since Affirmed crossed the finish line at the Belmont Stakes in 1979 just one year after the immortal Seattle Slew accomplished the same feat. Now we stand in the midst of a thirty-year drought, but with each passing year the hunger for the crowning of a new king grows and each year the Kentucky Derby gives eager minions a chance to catch a glimpse of their future king . . .
A High paced, up front duel develops in the opening half of the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby.
Usually the heard breaks from the gate on Derby Day slow and anxious, a steadied mass of horse-iron all desperately battling too not to be on the lead. It can be heart pounding experience to see twenty horse all blast out of the starting gate at break neck speeds only to be sternly takin-up by their riders attempting to avoid falling prey to the lead. The one and a quarter miles race witnessed by thousands crammed onto the front lawn at Churchill Downs is just not conducive to a front end winning performance due to both the length of the race itself and the lack of experience going said distance amongst the races twenty entrants and the incredible nosie factor.
This year was different, the early pace was hardly frenetic but entirely more rapid than usual causing many horses, namely my selection Pyro to make a drastic change in game plan just second after breaking from the gate. Pyro’s strategy was going to be of the sit and wait variety, most horseplayers expecting Pyro to sit as much as twenty lengths off the lead thru the opening half of the race only to launch an all out closing kick through the stretch run on the way to the finish line. Due to the tremendous early fractions Pyro was forced to stay a little closer to the lead then was preferred thus eliminating my selection.
Big Brown: Undefeated in three career races Big Brown a Kentucky bred based out of New York cruised to a 4 and 3/4 length victory as the race favourite at odd’s of 2/1. It may be hard to pinpoint exactly how Big Brown dominated the field of twenty but for the experienced eyes of a long time horseman Saturday’s result have become all to common when it comes to the run for the roses. The horse that best runs in the lane (the straight distance between the final turn and the finish line) wins the race. There is a certain penultimacy in making that final turn for home in the Kentucky Derby, none of the twenty horses in the field have ever takin on such a rigorous distance, likewise none have ever seen nor heard, nor ever will see or hear anything like the crowd at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in may. This is all before they even reach the finish line, when the field turns for home and the twenty horse field turn into fifty bulls and a cloud of dust this is where winners are made, in the lane. That where Big Brown under jockey Kent Desormeaux did his work in the lane and for their efforts Big Brown would receive a blanket of roses and Desormeaux a seven-figure check as well as a third Kentucky Derby victory. Big Browns next big test will come in just two weeks at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland where the colt will attempt to keep Trainer Rick Dutrow’s Triple Crown hopes alive in The Preakness Stakes.
Eight Belles: Disaster Strikes just moment after Filly Eight Belles crosses the line second of twenty in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. After completing the monestrous mile and a quarter distance Eight Belles "galloping out" with the rest of the field suddenly collapsed in a heap more on the spot then in any direction. It is still unclear exactly what occurred but the damage done, two broke ankles can have no happy ending for a beast of this nature. I am reluctant to go into any great detail regarding the incident due to my lack of a PhD and the tremendously touchy nature of euthanasia as a subject instead I will take this opportunity to debunk some of the popular misconceptions that have already spread like dirty weeds.
1-There is no proof that a "filly" or female horse undergoes any undue strain from racing against the boys, furthermore compared to the number of "colts" or male horses that have entered the derby, the three wins achieved in the derby’s 134 year history by a very limited number of female runners is phenomenal. I am not sure of the exact numbers but I am confident that any half-witted statistician could quickly crunch the derby’s 134 races and produce an identical or superior win rate for filly’s to their male counterparts.
2-The Jockey, trainer and/or breeder are somehow responsible for the terrible misfortune. Trainer Larry Jones is a powerhouse in the high stake Delaware racing circuit. Trainer of last years second place Derby finisher Hard Spun and an accomplished earner of 2.2 million dollars in purse earning in the opening five month of 2008. A father of four, grandfather of five and former commercial farmer from Kentucky, Larry is a tremendous trainer with enough personal fortune and professional backing to be a responsible horseman at any cost. Gabriel Saez, Eight Belles twenty-year-old jockey may lack a little experience but this young man was one of North Americas top one-hundred jockeys of 2007 raking in nearly three million dollars not to mention a second start under trainer Larry Jones in North Americas premier race, the run for the roses, the Kentucky derby. This leaves the breeder as the only culpable party, kind of like blaming the parent for the serial killer. The evidence of collusion is apparent but clearly not overwhelming.
Denis of Cork: Who? Denis of Cork was privileged enough as the final confirmed entrant into the derby’s twenty horse field to go to post under jockey Calvin Borel, a man I have personally nicknamed "Moses" for his winning performance aboard Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby.
(Borel’s performance in the 07 derby was nothing short of remarkable, drawing comparisons to Moses’s parting of the Red Sea, if you think this is absurd and you have not seen the race or perhaps you’ve seen the race and still find it absurd I suggest a viewing or reviewing of the 07 derby and don’t bother to focus on any of the other nineteen horses in the field, maintain your focus on Borel and Street Sense alone, the comparison will become evident)
Borel was up to his sea splitting best Saturday afternoon rallying longshot Denis of Cork from twenty lengths back before grabbing a firm hold of the number three spot on the Derby podium. Denis of Cork left the staring gate a little bit slow on Saturday afternoon and Calvin Borel immediately took a firm grasp over his colt levelling him off twenty horse lengths behind the leader. At this point the tandem exhibited a degree of patience reserved for monks and holymen (another Moses reference) sitting twenty lengths off the lead for three quarters of the entire race. When called upon, just prior to the mile pole Denis responded slashing past breathless, frightened competitor after breathless, frightened competitor and coming within a length of eventual winner Big Brown. There is certainly no shame in finishing third under a performance as impressive as Calvin Borel and Denis of Cork in the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby.