The 2012 Kentucky Derby is less than a week away, and in the next few days the drama will reach a fever pitch that won’t subside until the roses are draped over the withers of the lucky (talented and deserving?) winner.
The Derby is so unlike the rest of the racing season, as discussed in this week’s Forbes, but what makes it an anomaly is the source of its magic. 99% of the students at the UA became racing fans by watching the Derby, their ultimate goal is to have a Derby horse, or somehow be involved with that race. It’s the 137 years of history and tradition, the long list of champions, both equine and human, to have their names etched on the plinth of Derby lore, that make it so alluring. It’s also about the heartbreak, as when the Grey Ghost, Native Dancer, went down to defeat in the Derby at the hooves of unknown Dark Star, or when 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird stunned everyone, including racecaller Tom Durkin, to win by 6 in the slop. There is never a dull Derby.
If anything, the Derby is like the Hunger Games of horse racing. Each year, the Horse Capital, Louisville, KY, sends for tributes from each district: Dist. 1, New York; Dist. 2, FLorida; Dist. 3, The South; Dist 4, The Midwest; Dist. 5, the Borderlands; Dist. 6, California.
There are horses who have been pointed to the Derby from birth, like those Hunger Games participants who train and volunteer to play in the Games. Union Rags, El Padrino, Creative Cause and Hansen have all been on this fast-track to Derby, and spent the last year preparing for this day.
Then there are those who find themselves on the Derby trail by sheer luck – Trinniberg, Done Talking and Prospective all are good race horses, but do they truly belong with this group?
The Gamemakers have already begun their work, throwing up obstacles to take out the tributes: Creative Cause arrived in the Capital with a thrown shoe and a cracked hoof; I’ll Have Another had electroshock therapy and hit the vet’s list; Alpha suffered cuts on his legs in the Wood Memorial that turned into an infection, and he missed the first plane to Kentucky; Went The Day Well didn’t have a workout after the Spiral until last week; Hansen got a bit of a blue tail that almost took him out of the Blue Grass.
And they’re not done yet: the coming week we’ll see more drama, possible defections, and there’s nothing more unpredictable than the weather in May in Kentucky. The race itself is a test that requires every bit of physical prowess and intelligence, from both horse and rider, to complete. There are 20 tributes gunning for each other – will the pacesetters crumble, allowing a dark horse to close to victory? Or will there be more jostling and bumping than a demolition Derby? No matter what happens, we will watch, and root for, our favorites. Even if they never race again, we will be forever fans of these Derby horses.
Which horse will survive the Horse Racing Hunger Games? I have my picks, but as it goes every year, it’s more about luck than anything else. And may the odds be ever in your favor.