It’s that time of week again, but this is a time of the year that is truly special for me.
Ever since my senior year in high school, the first weekend in May has been something of a holy week(end) for me. That was the first year my equine loving friends convinced me that I need to go to Canterbury Park in the south metro area of the Twin Cities to watch the simulcast of that year’s Run for the Roses.
I realize that my fascination with horse racing makes me a bit underground to most people in that facet. The average Joe walking down the street doesn’t generally pay much attention to the sport other than perhaps seeing the winner of the Kentucky Derby scroll across the bottom of the screen while they’re watching SportsCenter or Good Morning America. Nonetheless my plan this week is to chronicle for you all how exactly the first Saturday in May came to be my favorite time of the year.
As I earlier recalled, I was 18 years old the first time I was introduced to the Kentucky Derby. Despite growing up in a family that not only owned numerous horses but owned racehorses, I never really paid much attention to Thoroughbred horseracing previously. Albeit, my parents were in partnerships that owned a small piece of Quarterhorses which are much smaller and less prolific than their thoroughbred counterparts. I went to the track with 20 dollars, undoubtedly proceeds from my graduation party, and watched my modest wagers circle the drain as the longshot gelding Funny Cide crashed the party at odds of over 20:1 en route to winning the first two legs of the vaunted Triple Crown before losing the Belmont Stakes to Empire Maker. Needless to say I was in over my head but addicted.
The first real year of hardcore Derby Handicapping for me came in 2004 during my freshman year of college. I followed the Kentucky Derby prep races all spring and thought for sure I had it nailed with a horse named Master David. Again heartbreak as the Bobby Frankel-trainee finished in the back half and Smarty Jones, the favorite, again won both the Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
It would continue this way for years, Giacomo at 50-1 in ’05, the ill-fated Barbaro in ’06, the juvenile champion Street Sense in ’07, right on through the horse that everyone thought would bring the 30-plus year Triple Crown drought to an end, Big Brown in ’08. What did they all have in common? They were nowhere to be found on my tickets.
It’s odd to love a sport so much despite the fact that I couldn’t cash a ticket to save my life. I guess it’s the Minnesota Viking fan in me looking for a new way to manifest itself.
My fortunes would change a bit in 2010 when, for the first time ever, I made a few dollars on a win bet on Super Saver, who managed to splash home in the Run for the Roses on a wet day in Louisville Kentucky. That was also the first year I didn’t watch the race live since my inundation. I was on a golf course in Middle-of-Nowhere, Minnesota Pop. 112. I listened to my first Derby winner on the radio. (An omen?)
Now I’ve correctly picked (guessed) the winner a few times and if I were to run my “investments” by an accountant I’d be lucky if I were broken even. I don’t enjoy horse racing for the gambling aspect. I throw a few dollars at about 3 races a year, one of which is always the Derby. I just love to watch horses run. I love to learn about their personalities. I guess what I love about the Kentucky Derby most is that every year 160,000 people descend on Louisville like a pilgrimage to their Holy Land just to pay homage to the running of the most beautiful animal God ever created. I’ve made the trip once, in 2012, and my thoughts often roam to when I can make it back to what I consider the greatest sporting event in existence.
The Pullitzer Prize-winning Kentucky-based columnist Irvin S. Cobb once waxed poetic saying, “Until you go to the Kentucky Derby with your own eyes, behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowhere and you ain’t never seen nothing.”
I couldn’t agree more. The sport of Thoroughbred Horse Racing has swept me up in it’s currents and the Derby is the one day each year that I wait for patiently. As I sit here and ramble on the hour is nigh upon us.
I hope that anyone who hasn’t taken an hour to tune in on Derby Saturday does so this year just to see if I’m not alone in my pre-juxtoposition to Derby Fever.
And although my friends would call me a “chalkplayer”(someone who only bets the favorite), my advice if you happen to cruise by Prairie Meadows; throw a few sheckles at the favorite, Justify.
And to everyone’s relief, there will be two weeks before the Preakness so you’ll get at least one non-horse racing post next week.