Down The Stretch

As the calendar turns to May, the niche sport of horse racing once again tries to make itself seem important for six weeks.

They’ll break from the gate on Saturday evening in Louisville, Kentucky in the most famous horse race in the world. The Kentucky Derby, much like NASCAR’s Daytona 500, acts as the big show. The rest of the Triple Crown races (Preakness Stakes & Belmont Stakes) need to wait for the narrative to play out. Outside of the horse racing industry – and people of Maryland – no one follows the Preakness. If a Triple Crown contender doesn’t play out in time for the Belmont, that race is reduced to a bunch of derelicts betting on numbers.

Then again, let’s wear rose-colored glasses for the rest of this entry.

Maybe it’s the year a horse can travel from Louisville to Baltimore and then Elmont and leave with all of the trophies.  Without a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, maybe 2013 serves as the lucky number to move the sport of kings into the primetime spotlight.

On Derby Saturday, a 50-year-old jockey and 77-year-old trainer will saddle an ultimate underdog that will likely take center stage for the mammoth network pre-race show. Gary Stevens and D. Wayne Lukas hope Oxbow sends them to the winners circle at Churchill Downs one more time. Stevens, a commentator for the last handful of Triple Crown races for NBC, said he needed to scratch the itch of getting back on the horse. Lukas, who has thrown in a  number of duds in the last decade or so, figures he can use the positive publicity. Together they form the team that everyone will root for on Saturday. Oxbow, the star of the show in Kentucky, finished second in the Rebel Stakes in mid-March and will likely go off in the 20-1 range at post time.

The absolute lottery of trying to select a Kentucky Derby winner works in the same manner of picking the winner of the Masters. How many of you saw Adam Scott wearing a green jacket on Thursday morning? The bumps, traffic and bad draws will play a  major factor in alibis used by the connections of the champion horse.

I bet on the Derby every year and have only won once. Convinced that Barbaro would take the run for the roses, I cashed in on his greatness and also saw his final race two weeks later. Horse racing is an incredibly wonderful and cruel game simultaneously. I’ll see you when they come down the stretch on Saturday.

Comments? Send me a tweet @WBALDash

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