It’s Kentucky Derby Week !
THOUROUGHBRED RACING’S MASTERS
It’s horse racing’s equivalent of the Masters, the spring harbinger that’s steeped in as much history and tradition as the Masters, run on as legendary a track as Augusta National. This afternoon the post positions will be drawn for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. For all the history of this race and this track, this one could have as much history as any race ever run there. Horse racing in Lexington dates back to 1783, when it began on an in-town street block. Due to complaints of safety minded citizens the Commons opened in 1787 and horse racing became a track event. 98 years later Churchill Downs opened and each running of the Derby embraces every year of it’s history, the clock turning back every year for the “Most exciting two minutes in sports” The Churchill Downs history books will open wide if Kevin Krigger crosses the finish line ahead of the field. He would become the first black jockey since 1902 to claim a win in the Derby and his odds-on chances are pretty good. He’ll be riding Goldencents, one of only two horses in the three year old field to have won more than a million dollars this year. Goldencents showed his ability to rally with a win in the Santa Anita Derby last month, one of the primary set ups for the Triple Crown, the west coast equivalent of the Wood Memorial, which has produced a fair number of Derby winners and Triple Crown contenders. This year’s Wood Memorial was won by Verrazano, at 9-2, second to Orb among the early favorites, Orb at 4-1. In the “Wood” Verrazano showed his ability to run, taking the lead in the final turn, and his ability to hold off challengers, keeping a hard charging Normandy Invasion, another Derby favorite at 10-1, at bay. At 8-1 Goldencents shares the third favorite spot with Revolutionary. Another horse to watch, and one that’s sure go draw a lot of attention with a chance to score big at 20-1, is Oxbow. What makes Oxbow more attractive than the average 20-1 shot is his rider. At 50 years old Gary Stevens wouldn’t be the oldest rider ever to win the Kentucky Derby if he guides Oxbow home, the legendary Bill Shoemaker holding the honors at 54, but Stevens would be the oldest to come out of retirement to do it. In 2005 Stevens moved to the broadcast booth and even logged some time in Hollywood, turning in a fine job in some of the critical scenes in “Seabiscuit”, playing jockey George Woolf. He’s won eight Triple Crown races, three of them Kentucky Derby’s, and in thoroughbred racing the experience of the man up is as important as the pedigree of his mount. But it’s not always a man up. Once again the distaff side of the jockey fraternity will be represented with Rosie Napravnik looking to become the first woman to win the Kentucky Derby when she saddles up Mylute, at 25-1. The odds will change, in some cases drastically, once we learn this afternoon who’s officially in the field, who’s waiting in the wings and the gates in which the favorites find themselves. As with the Masters in golf, the thoroughbred season officially begins for the casual observers on Saturday and the beauty of the Kentucky Derby is that every horse has a story. And every one of them has a pretty good story in the irons as well. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.