A few scant hours stand between now and the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby. No doubt tails and nerve endings are twitching in the stables, for owners, trainers, horse and riders alike.
At the end of the day, there will be only one winner of the initial jewel of the coveted Triple Crown. Place and show will be relegated to first and second losers. Not a flattering illustration, but nonetheless true. Sport fans love champions. Period. Who will take the $2 million is anyone’s guess, but bettors and pundits are not short on viewpoint.
It seems everyone with a microphone, keyboard or iPad has an opinion, but no one can truly predict the most unpredictable of sports, horse racing. There are too many variables.
For example, speed horses may have an advantage at the gate, but if they are placed in post position one through three, not only will they need to sprint past the first furlong pole to avoid being boxed in, they will need the stamina to survive the rest of the run. How will Daddy Long Legs, Optimizer and Take Charge Indy fare?
If the betting community is right, not well. According to Kentuckyderby.com, the horses are sitting at odds of 24:1, 35:1 and 10:1 respectively. Compare that to Union Rags in the No. 4 gate with odds of 9:2. By the way, he is now the front runner over Bodemeister at 7:1. Oh, did I mention, Churchill Downs is already wet and the forecast is 30 percent chance of rain?
So what do Kentucky Derby 2012 pundits really know? They bury their noses in stat books with the fervor of mathematicians convinced they are on the brink of refuting the existence of infinity. But in the world of horse racing, it does exist. In this vast expanse of what ifs, anything can happen, calculations be damned.
In 2009, Mine That Bird—at 50.60:1 and starting at gate No. 8—was 20 lengths off the pace early on, but came on strong at the far turn, steamrolling the competition on a sloppy track, winning by 6 3/4 lengths.
Take Giacomo. In 2005, the three-year-old stood at post position No. 10 with odds of 50.30:1. He’d run seven prior races with only one win under his cinch. He took the derby by a half-length. He not only beat the odds, he crushed them dollar for dollar.
Charismatic won the 1999 Kentucky Derby by a neck at 31.30:1. He went on to win the Preakness, but missed the Triple Crown by placing third in the Belmont, breaking his leg after crossing the finish line. Fortunately, he survived and now lives a stud life in Japan.
The long and short of it is stuff happens on the track. A duo can falter out of the gate, be bumped on the rail, locked out at a turn. Every race is different. That is reality. That is the devilish delight of the sport of kings. Sure, those who spend countless hours pouring over starts v wins, track conditions, jockey stats, etc. can narrow it down, but never to a true certainty.
It is the beauty of taking a $2 chance. Clutching your program as the field takes off. Flailing it in the air as your horse and rider begin to make their move. Strangle holding the poor stranger next to you as you witness another horse charging for the lead. Flinging your hands toward the heavens when your colt crosses the finish line ahead of the herd. The joy of winning. The joy of being right.
At the post, regardless of how the experts pontificate, the 2012 Kentucky Derby is anybody’s race. Whether or not you put money on a win, place or show pony, long or short odds, be sure to tune in and just enjoy the ride.