Hear ye, hear ye, Derby week has finally arrived! How spectacular to reflect on last year's crop of 3 year-olds and see how much they accomplished. Namely Curlin, who after coming up a bit short to super filly Rags to Riches (too bad she was soon after injured) in the mile and one-half Belmont Stakes reeled off impressive victories in the Breeders' Cup Classic and more recently the Dubai World Cup (see archived blog), inching ever so closer to Cigar's high water earnings mark of $9.99 million USD. Street Sense and Hard Spun also went on to win two additional graded stakes each in their fall campaigns, with the latter placing behind Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic. I can not recall such utter domination by a class of sophomores in all my racing years. Thus, we were due for a letdown this racing season. However, based on how as a whole this year's top prospects have floundered, we may be witnessing the "bounce" effect with this crop (for those non-handicappers, bounce refers to a poor performance following an unusually strong race).
Nevertheless, The Derby is about so much more than the two minutes it will take the twenty colts (and likely fillies this year with Eight Belles and Proud Spell) to zip counterclockwise over 10 furlongs. First, this event is an anniversary of past Derby champions, both the great (Secretariat's 35th) and the fortuitous (Giacomo's 3rd). It is the drama of the heavy favorite scratching the day of the race (A.P. Indy in 1992, Dr. Carter in 1984), the crescendo of owners and trainers perservering over seven or eight decades to finally have arrived with a Derby starter (Francis Genter in 1990 with Unbridled and Harold Rose with Hal's Hope in 2000), and the social theatre of Churchill Downs and parties all over this great land that has catapulted this day into the vernacular of every casual sporting and/or fashion pupil. Ladies and Gentlemen... let the games begin!! (Not those soon to be games in Beijing causing all the trouble, mind you.)
To gain some perspective on this race from a historical context, let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? Close your eyes and pretend we're in the spring of 1875. What's that, can't read with your eyes closed? Well open them again and just "imagine" people walking around dirt roads -- some on horseback-- on their way to the mercantile store, saloon (or heaven forbid, brothel). Folks back then are more astute handicappers, since most are shodding their horses on a monthly basis and can identify bowed tendons and the like. Who's that screaming baby? Oh, that's future poet Robert Frost being born just in time for the big race. Now what's that smell? No dirty diapers up in here, that's the incense coming from St. Patrick's Cathedral where Pope Pius IX has just ordained the first American Cardinal. Yes, people still attended church way back then before Al Gore invented the internet. Those not living close to Louisville are S-O-L since Mr. Bell is still tinkering with his sound transmission project. And people are too afraid to ride the train anywhere since Jesse James and Bat Masterson are in their gunslinging, train robbing heyday.
Most people didn't even notice Aristides victory on May 17, 1875, witnessed by only 10,000 folks. There was no blanket of roses for the winner, no mint juleps for the celebrating owners. Just a simple notation of the race called "The Kentucky Derby" in the local papers. People would soon turn their attention to fighting the mass of European immigrants overtaking this country until one of those immigrants produced a crisp, refreshing beverage called "Budweiser". Then they decided Germans weren't so bad after all and turned their attacks toward a woman by the name of Susan B. Anthony, who thought it was a good idea for women to be involved in the political process and be allowed to vote. I'd venture to guess she would be proud of the road she paved for Hillary, just like Col. Lewis Clark would be proud of what has become of his little horse race to showcase Kentucky breeding. I'd better wrap it up for today. More on the actual horses tomorrow...