Kentucky Derby 2012: Top 10 Reasons Why This Is America's Best Race

Matthew CohenContributor IIIMay 3, 2012

Kentucky Derby 2012: Top 10 Reasons Why This Is America's Best Race

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    The 138th Kentucky Derby is fast approaching, and for two minutes on Saturday, the entire sports world turns its attention to Churchill Downs. The Run for the Roses is horse racing's grandest stage and makes household names for those lucky enough to win.

    By now you know the Derby field, and hopefully you have studied up enough to place your bets.

    There are certainly other great races in American sports—The Indianapolis 500, The Daytona 500 and your major marathons. Nothing beats Derby day, however. Here are the top 10 reasons why.

The Hats

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    Nothing beats the hats on Derby day. Some border on the odd. Some push right through the wall of over-the-top. Whatever you think about the hats on Derby day, one thing is for sure—you cannot look away. At what other sporting event could you get away with wearing a hat like this? The answer is none.

    The pageantry of the Derby is what helps add to the Derby mystique. 

    The hats are a big part of what makes Derby day so special. It is almost like a mini red-carpet event. All the women want to outdo each other. The bigger the hat, the more respect you get. At what other race in America do you see fashion statements like this? Certainly not at the Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500.

    It is reason No. 10 the Kentucky Derby is the greatest race in America.

The Mint Julep

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    Cheers. Since 1938, the mint julep has been promoted by Churchill Downs as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Every year, almost 120,000 juleps are served over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Derby. 

    Ever had a mint julep? They are exquisite. Made with four main ingredients (mint leaf, bourbon, sugar and water), there are few drinks as delightful as a mint julep.

    What other race in America serves drinks this refreshing? Sure, you can grab a Bud at any NASCAR event. They just drink water at the Boston Marathon. You cannot get away with something like the mint julep anywhere else.

    The mint julep is reason No. 9 why the Kentucky Derby is America's best race. Bottoms up.

"My Old Kentucky Home"

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    Composed in the mid-1850s by composer Stephen Foster, "My Old Kentucky Home" became the official song of the state of Kentucky in 1928. For decades, the song has been the official song of the Kentucky Derby. Traditionally, the song is played before post time by the University of Louisville marching band.

    If you don't know the lyrics, here they are. Try and learn by Saturday.

    The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
    ’Tis summer, the darkies are gay,
    The corn top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom
    While the birds make music all the day.
    The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
    All merry, all happy, and bright:
    By’n by Hard Times comes a knocking at the door,
    Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!
    Weep no more, my lady,
    Oh! weep no more today!
    We will sing one song
    For the old Kentucky Home,
    For the old Kentucky Home, far away.
    They hunt no more for the possum and the coon
    On meadow, the hill and the shore,
    They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
    On the bench by that old cabin door.
    The day goes by like a shadow o’er the heart,
    With sorrow where all was delight:
    The time has come when the darkies have to part,
    Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!
    The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
    Wherever the darkey may go:
    A few more days, and the trouble all will end
    In the field where sugar-canes may grow.
    A few more days for to tote the weary load,
    No matter ’twill never be light,
    A few more days till we totter on the road,
    Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

The Chance for a Big Payday

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    OK, not everyone likes to bet, but for those who do, the Kentucky Derby is a chance for a big payday. The handle on Derby day is among the biggest in horse racing all year.

    Most people are not expert handicappers. They will just place your standard bet on a horse to win. Regulars will, of course, bet the exacta's and trifecta's and pick 4's. Whether you bet a lot, a little or not at all, the opportunity is there on Derby day to walk away with a little extra cash in your pockets.

    The purse for the Kentucky Derby, by the way, is $2 million, with first place taking home $1.425 million.

    Other races in America do not give you this opportunity. The Derby does. 

Everyone Becomes an Expert

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    This one might irk the die-hard horse racing fans. When I say die-hard, I mean the guy going to the track on a Wednesday afternoon to watch the maiden special-weight race. The same guy smoking a cigar and leaning up against the rail.

    On Derby day, everyone acts like they know what they are talking about, from casual fans to the woman in the silly hat who is picking a winner because she likes the name of a horse. It irks the die-hard horse racing fan sitting at home, watching some woman in a big hat and drinking a mint julep talking about how this horse is going to win or that horse is going to win. Everyone knows she has no idea what she is talking about.

    Still, the attention the Derby gets from everyone is not a bad thing. For one day in May, horse racing becomes the most important sport in the country. That cannot be a bad thing.This is what makes the Kentucky Derby America's best race.

Oldest Race in America

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    This is the 138th Kentucky Derby. The 138th! The Kentucky Derby is the oldest race in America. 

    The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began in 1973. Most major marathons in this country did not start until the 1970's. Obviously the Daytona 500 (first race in 1959) and Indianapolis 500 (1911) did not start until cars were invented.

    The Derby is part of Americana. Ulysses S. Grant was president when Aristides won the inaugural Derby in 1875. Think about that—Ulysses S. Grant.

    The historic nature of the Derby is one of the reasons that this is America's best race. 

Anyone Can Win It

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    Just think that in the past seven Kentucky Derbies, we have seen two 50-to-1 longshots win the Run for the Roses. Giacomo won in 2005, and in 2009 Mine that Bird (the half-brother to this year's Dullahan) shocked the world.

    The longest shot to ever win the Derby came in 1913, when Donerail was an astounding 91-to-1.

    The fact that anyone can win the Derby is what makes this such a special race. In NASCAR, everyone typically knows who the handful of potential winners are. On Derby day, you just never know. Every horse is capable of running that one special race that stamps its name in the history books. 

    It is what makes the Kentucky Derby the greatest race in America.

The Starting Gate

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    "And they're off!" The bell strikes, and 20 horses come darting out of the starting gate, hoping that two minutes later they will run their way into the history books.

    There is no feeling like seeing 20 Derby hopefuls lined up in the starting gate, each with a chance at winning. Forget the odds at this point. When each of these jockeys leaves the starting gate, he only has one thing on his mind—winning.

    The starting gate is the culmination of days, weeks and months of training and preparation for the horses and their connections. It is a proud moment to have a horse running in the Derby. Some trainers go their whole lives without ever seeing one of their horses in the starting gate.

The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports

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    Is there a more thrilling feeling than watching 20 horses come around the far turn, hearing "down the stretch they come!" and sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see which horse is going to pull ahead for the win? The answer is no.

    There is absolutely no more exciting moment in sports than the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby. The whole two-minute race is so intense, so nerve-wracking. Whether you put money on the race, are just watching because you love the sport or have a specific rooting interest, everyone is screaming on that final stretch.

    No race in America has the level of excitement you feel when you see 20 horses together and have no idea which one is going to win. It is by far one of the many reasons the Kentucky Derby is the greatest race in America.

The Possibility of a Triple Crown

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    1978 was the last time we saw a Triple Crown winner, when Affirmed became the 11th and last horse to ever win the crown jewel of horse racing.

    Here is the complete list of winners:

    1919 - Sir Barton

    1930- Gallant Fox

    1935 - Omaha

    1937 - War Admiral

    1941 - Whirlaway

    1943 - Count Fleet

    1946 - Assault

    1948 - Citation

    1973 - Secretariat

    1977 - Seattle Slew

    1978 - Affirmed

    The winner of the Kentucky Derby gives us hope that maybe we could have another Triple Crown winner. In a sport that is not doing as well as it once was or should be, a Triple Crown winner would have an enormous impact on the sport. Horse racing needs another Triple Crown winner; it has been far too long.

    If the winner can come back two weeks later and win The Preakness, the whole world will be watching at The Belmont for a chance at history.

    These are the top 10 reasons why the Kentucky Derby is America's best and greatest race.