The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Triumph and Tragedy at Churchill Downs

Posted by Blake Murphy on May 6, 2008

This article has been submitted by “Weezy F Baby” Adam Klemencic.

Click here to watch the 134th running.

I have looked forward to the first Saturday in May for years now, and not because it’s Blake’s birthday weekend. The Kentucky Derby is arguably the most exciting two minutes in all of sports and for the 20 horses in this year’s field it was their chance to win the 134th running of America’s most prestigious race and set the stage to begin their bid towards the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby—May 3rd, The Preakness—May 17th, and The Belmont—June 7th). If anyone were to criticise the importance of this event, consider that last year the Queen was present, and this year Derby regulars such as: the Clintons, Vince Young, and our favourite old man (not Don Cherry), Hugh Hefner, were all in attendance. Late Saturday afternoon, 157,770 people packed the beautiful facility sipping on mint juleps while eyeing outlandish hats to witness man and animal, athlete and athlete become one for 1 ¼ mile on the red dirt track at Louisville Kentucky.

I consider myself a fan of horse racing with a decent understanding of the intricacies. For as long as I can remember my grandfather has owned, bred, and raced standardbred horses (the ones that pull the cart (selke)). Thoroughbred racing (riders on the back) has never particularly interested me except for 6 weeks in the spring when the Triple Crown is held. What captures my attention and passion is not the racing and horses, but the incredible stories that go along with each horse and the people involved. The story lines that developed this year were some of the most inspirational and heartbreaking I can remember. With a full field of 20 horses, who would be the winner? Would the number 10 post, Colonel John, fulfil Vince Young’s wishes and be victorious; or would Canadian Charles Fipke, after nearly 30 years of trying to qualify for the Derby, have his horse, Tale of Ekati, shine? May we even see a more astonishing finish with Eight Belles, the only filly in the field (female), be the only the 4th ever to beat the boys, and the first in 20 years? Perhaps it was trainer Richard Dutrow’s horse, Big Brown, who was favored to become only the second winner to start from post position 20?

Big Brown and his contingent had perhaps one of the most reported on storylines going into the Derby. Named after one of minority shareholder Paul Pompa Jr.’s clients—UPS, he had only raced in 3 previous races due to sore hoofs but won by a total of 29 lengths. Dutrow, the trainer, is a story of rags to riches as only 10 years earlier he was sleeping on stall floors at Aquaduct race track. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux had a chance to resurrect a career that had faltered recently and forced him to move his wife and two kids from California to New York, where he regained his passion for and success with riding.

As the horses exited the paddock and entered the track , the roar from the crowd was so deafening it spooked Recapturetheglory enough for him to buck his Derby-virgin jockey right off his mount. After all 20 horses were loaded into the gate, Big Brown was favoured at 5-2 and I could not prevent the goose bumps from forming as the bell rang, the gates swung open, and the announcer yelled, “And they’re off!” The horses were five wide at the ¼ mile mark with Big Brown coming down from the top of the track to take the outside position. At the ½ mile mark the split time showed an exhausting pace but Big Brown was still on the outside, three wide sitting back waiting for his move. At the ¾ mark, veteran jockey Kent Desormeaux told him to go and within half a dozen strides he moved from sixth position right up alongside the leaders. As they made the turn and entered the homestretch he put it into overdrive and finished 5 lengths ahead of the filly Eight Belles, who looked incredible down the stretch passing the rest of the field. The dominant performance by Big Brown was compared by one person as the equivalent to Shaq taking on a bunch of grade 5s in a basketball game.

When Big Brown crossed the finish line he became the 52nd favorite to win in 134 runnings, earned himself $1,451,800 in prize money, and gave Kent Desormeaux his third Kentucky Derby win, cementing him in the record books along with 7 others who have won the Running of the Roses 3 or more times. It all seemed like a triumphant day at Churchill until it was noticed that filly Eight Belles was down and not moving. As the equine ambulances rushed over, NBC coverage did an excellent job of keeping the viewer in the know, and within minutes it became apparent she broke both her ankles upon pulling up after the race and was euthanized. For the casual race fan it must have been a total shock, but for horse racing people, it was just a sad, stark reminder of how fragile these powerful creatures can be. She ran the race of her life, beating 18 other boys, but unfortunately what should have been happiness, turned into utter sadness for all.

As Big Brown received his customary blanket of roses with his contingent celebrating behind him, the big question became evident in everybody’s mind, “Is this the year? Will this be the first horse in 30 years to win the Triple Crown?” Many thought Barbaro could do it 2 years ago until he broke his leg a few strides into the Preakness and was put down months later. Considering he is unbeaten, has won his four races by a total of 34 lengths, and barely looked tired at the end of the Derby, this is the year to be watching. Tune in May 17th to NBC to see the second leg from Pimlico Park.

This article has been submitted by “Weezy F Baby” Adam Klemencic.

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