159,563 mint julep drinkers and their hats attended Churchill Downs on Saturday to watch the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby.
In case you are not familiar with the “Run for the Roses”, young horses cut preschool to be mounted by former gymnasts and run a mile and a quarter race around a track.
The horses are named like fantasy sports teams. Some are named after simple thoughts (Any Victory Will Do, I Want Revenge) some like unrealistic menu items (Sea Biscuit, Chocolate Candy) and others pay homage to other animals (Summer Bird, Chickaboo). Some are cocky on their high horse (Cash the Check, Hold Me Back), but when in doubt the horses are named alliterations (Musket Man, Friesan Fire, Regal Ransom).
For hours before the race, attendees drink their faces off while the women bet on whichever horse name seems most entertaining and men choose whether to put more money on a favorite or less money on a long-shot. It’s a battle of odds versus possible bragging rights. Most will lose, of course, and some will get back on the horse that bucked them for Preakness and/or the Belmont Stakes. But gambling is only half the sport…
Marketed as “the most exciting two minutes of sports,” this year the derby lived up to the hype. Just like football, sloppy conditions on the track leveled the playing field into a mud mess. Favorite horse I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the race due to a lame ankle.
With the top dog out and traction lacking, the door was open for a horse no one bet on to win. And it happened. Coming back from behind, passing on the inside, Mine That Bird won by almost seven horse lengths (as scientific a measure as you can find), the largest margin since 1946.
The only thing with larger odds than Mine That Bird already overcame are the chances that the miracle horse can complete the holy trinity, always sought after and rarely occurring, Triple Crown. We’ll see how the bird mines in two weeks…
Originally published on May 6th in Citizen News (Sherman, New Fairfield Edition)