Equine history, pageantry come together in two weeks
They’ll be talking about Secretariat, American Pharoah, Seattle Slew, Genuine Risk and Man O’ War in just a few days.
Majestic thoroughbreds all . . . and they etched their names in the lore and record books handled by the Kentucky Derby.
It’s just two weeks away. In Louisville. At Churchill Downs. The 143rd running of the fastest two minutes in all of sport – the Kentucky Derby.
The preliminaries have been run. The Florida Derby. The Wood Memorial. The Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes at Hot Springs in Arkansas. The Santa Anita Derby at the picturesque Santa Anita Race Course just below the foothills of the purple-hued San Gabriel Mountains.
The first Saturday in May is when the flashy Hollywood types mingle with the just-as-flashy Kentucky blueblood types at parties hosted by the Barnstable twins or Yum Brands or even Bo Derek, an aficionado of thoroughbreds and the old money they usually stand for.
Thoroughbred trainers, the owners of the magnificent creatures who run their hearts out, the jockeys and their princely bank accounts and those from the entertainment industry, who can only wish they had the charisma, dignity and talent of the 20 thoroughbreds that will be entered in the Kentucky Derby – they will all come together along the banks of the Ohio River to be seen and chase the mostly elusive fame still carried by the likes of Silver Charm, Nyquist and Sir Barton.
Most of the 170,000 or so gathered in the six-tiered grandstand, infield and celebrity perches won’t know much about the thoroughbred entries.
But wagers will be placed on the hunches, lucky numbers, colors of the silks adorning the backs of the jockeys, cute names or various shades of brown that distinguish the four-legged stars from one another at the annual show.
Who will those in the gigantic hats and vested white suits decide is the best thoroughbred to bet a few bob on their noses?
The second-favorite will likely be Irish War Cry, the late-charging winner of the Wood Memorial. Trained by Maryland-based Graham Motion, Irish War Cry is the son of the strapping Curlin, an auburn-colored dynamo who curried much favor with the press when he was running his races.
Favored will be the Arkansas Derby winner, Classic Empire. Classic Empire came flashing through the stretch at Oaklawn Park to win by a neck over Conquest Mo Money at the mile-and-one-eighth distance.
Now, Conquest Mo Money was not nominated for the Kentucky Derby and will cost his owners a $200,000 supplemental fee if they want to test the Kentucky Derby waters, tradition and mint juleps. They have until May 3 to decide whether to run or not.
Classic Empire won last fall’s Breeders Cup Juvenile and was the two-year-old Eclipse Award winner as that age group’s Horse of the Year.
He’s a handsome fellow. White star on his forehead, white stripe and with one white sock on a leg. No Hollywood type can hold a mint julep to him.
The Florida Derby winner, Always Dreaming, is trained by Todd Pletcher and was sired by Bodemeister, a fine-boned thoroughbred named after trainer Bob Baffert’s son.
Some will search their program for a long shot of sorts and come away thinking the likes of Gunnevera, trained by Antonio Sano and ridden by Javier Castellano will help pay for their extravagance while in Kentucky.
State of Honor was the runner-up in the Florida Derby and Malagacy was unbeaten in three career starts until thrashed in the Arkansas Derby.
Of course, there aren’t any Secretariat’s in this field . . . or any field for that matter.
The thoroughbreds will leave the paddock, come under the massive grandstand through a tunnel and emerge onto the track as the University of Louisville band plays “My Old Kentucky Home.”
A few thousand eyes will turn misty.
And then the starting gate will open and 20 magnificent thoroughbreds will come thundering “past the grandstand the first time” before deciding on the only one which will have a remaining chance to win the Triple Crown.