It’s time to break out the mint juleps, as the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby has finally arrived.
A yearly reminder that horse racing once captured this nation’s attention, the Kentucky Derby is always among the year’s most underrated sporting events. Though it gets a bevy of attention from around the globe, the race is a means to an end for most sports fans.
Horse racing has forever been chasing its version of a dragon—the next Triple Crown winner. It’s been 35 years since Affirmed became the last horse to win all three of the United States’ most storied events in 1978, and the sport has been in a perpetual state of limbo ever since.
The lack of Triple Crown winners has almost taken some luster away from the Kentucky Derby. Instead of staying in the moment, pundits from across the land wonder what comes next for the horse that wins the crown. In most years, that would be an understandable phenomenon. We fall in love with greatness no matter what the sport, and wonderment about transcendence makes up half of all sports conversations.
This year, that would be doing a disservice, because the 2013 Run for the Roses may become the year’s most underrated sporting event.
Based merely on the pageantry of the event, the Kentucky Derby is an event tailor-made for high-definition television.
With bonnet hats for the ladies and Sunday best for the men, the outfits look like they were pulled out of the Draper family closet. And as anyone who watched the short-lived HBO show Luck can attest, high-definition horse racing is among the most captivatingly beautiful images one can see.
With undefeated boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. taking on Robert Guerrero later on Saturday night, May 4 almost feels like a throwback to the past—where prizefights and horse racing ruled the world and an iPad is the thing you use at the optometrist. It almost makes you want to reactivate your landline.
It doesn’t hurt that this year’s race is one of the hardest to call in modern history. Orb comes in as the moneyline favorite for Saturday’s event at 11-2 (per Bovada), but he’s facing off not only against recent history but also a field full of contenders.
Five years have passed since the last pre-race favorite has won the Kentucky Derby (Big Brown in 2008). In the years since, all but one of the victors have come with odds in the double digits, which bodes well for a field full of semi-contenders.
Using the past to dictate future outcomes is always a bit dangerous. Horse racing is fluid, with turnover on a year-to-year basis. So it makes little difference to the Orbs of the world that history is working against them—but it’s still a salient point.
This race features a “balanced” field with “no definitive favorite,” according to AZCentral Sports’ Twitter feed.
According to Bovada, only seven horses in the field, which goes 20 deep, come off at worse than 30-1 odds—a fact that amounts to a shrugging of the shoulders by oddsmakers. Verrazano, the only undefeated horse in the field, only comes off at 6-1 odds, which is astounding considering his dominance at the Wood Memorial.
But horses carry their fair share of intrigue every year. Owners and jockeys in particular come with astounding backstories, each of which will undoubtedly lead to countless human-interest stories.
Goldencents, who comes off at 13-2 odds, is partially owned by Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino—and that’s only the second-most notable thing about the horse.
Jockey Kevin Krigger, who is one of two Crucians in Saturday’s event, is trying to become the first African American jokey to win since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902. Though African Americans once played a prominent role in Lexington, only one has ridden in the sport’s biggest race since 1921, per Larry Stewart of the Press Telegram.
Joining Krigger in an attempt at history is fellow rider Rosie Napravink. The 25-year-old up-and-coming jockey is looking to become the first female ever to win at Churchill Downs. She’ll do so riding Mylute, whose second-place finish at the Louisiana Derby gives the three-year-old colt momentum.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell noticed the symmetry and called the duo a “great storyline” prior to Saturday’s race:
Great storylinesRosie on Mylute cld be 1st woman jockey to win Krigger on Goldencents wld be 1st black jockey winner since 1902 #Derby— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) May 4, 2013
Add that to the owner of Normandy Invasion hosting World War II veterans this week. Army veteran Alan Reeves spoke to ESPN’s Ron Mitchell and noted the horse’s No. 5 post position carried “a significance” for him and his fellow veterans.
It’s almost guaranteed that the exterior factors are more capable of tugging at the heartstrings than anything else.
The race should be great. The storylines are captivating. The atmosphere should be wonderful. And more than anything else, the 2013 Kentucky Derby should be a heck of a time.