Saturday, May 02, 2009

Kentucky Derby 2009

Holy Smokes, what a race!

First let me say up front that NBC is about as competent at covering a horse race as a fat snail in my garden is at running an adding machine. NBC should not even be allowed to enter Churchill Downs, let alone cover the Derby. They have no understanding at all that the Kentucky Derby is a HORSE RACE, not a fashion show or a People Magazine extra. People, people, people, over and over again, with really inane questions and screamy interviewers.

We want HORSES, NBC. It's a HORSE race. HORSE. HORSE. HORSE. Can you ever get that concept?????

All right, I've got that off my chest.

I looked at the histories and the trainers and the owners and the horses before the race; not as much as other years, but some, and narrowed my picks down to Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, and Musket Man. Pioneerof the Nile was a Baffert-trained horse, which is always a plus. Dunkirk had a great track record ... but he was a gray, and grays hardly ever win. (Shut up, it's true.) Musket Man didn't have an impressive record, but he was coming on strong from behind in his races, which could indicate some strength and a learning curve.

But oh, oh, oh... what a race. Dunkirk stumbled badly coming out of the gate, and with the crowded muddy track (19 horses), a few steps in you could hardly make out the color of the horses or their jockeys' silks. It wasn't until the last bit that a mud-spattered animal came shooting through the whole pack of horses as though they were standing still and streamed ahead -- the completely overlooked 50 - 1 odds Mine That Bird.

Odds of 50 - 1? That's like saying, "Here's a dollar, my good man, hold your horse still so that my dog can piss on his leg."

I still cry when I watch footage of Secretariat winning his races in 1973, but I will always laugh with glee when I see Mine That Bird win the 2009 Kentucky Derby. At the beginning of the race, he was so far behind you could understand the 50 - 1 chances and dismiss him. Right out of the gate he got slammed by the horses on either side of him. But jockey Calvin Borel did some major juju, let his horse get overlooked, and just aimed that fine horse right up the rail.

I've seen horses come from behind before, but I don't ever recall seeing one come up so fast. Well, maybe Secretariat, but he was a different kind of horse. Mine That Bird slid through the crowd of horses like he was greased.

He cost $9500 as a yearling. My horse, Duquesne, was a cull cutting horse who, had we wanted papers for him, would have cost $5000 as a two-year-old, and even at his 18 years, I wouldn't sell for $11,000. Poor young Mine That Bird was a bargain-basement buy. They even gelded him because he wasn't considered good enough for breeding stock. Whoops.

And while his jockey hooted and whooped in abandonment at the wonder of the win, Mine That Bird trotted along, completely at ease, tilting his ears back to listen to his rider, perfectly behaved, and with only a tiny bit of sweat on his legs and neck.

That kind of speed in a field that big? That kind of aplomb after a major adrenaline event? I'll wish healing rest on that horse for the next two weeks, and look for him in the Preakness.

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