KENTUCKY DERBY IS ABOUT WAY MORE THAN TWO MINUTES
The world’s most famous Thoroughbred race bills itself as the greatest two minutes in sports and that it is. A closer look however has told this sports scribe it is about way more than just 120 or so seconds.
I have enjoyed the sport for many years and have become deeply immersed as the years have passed. I have known and even chronicled the magic of the Kentucky Derby for a number of years now. But while waiting for the 142nd running to go off, an all new understanding came upon me.
Leading up to the race, research, phone calls, and text messages were the norm every day. Trying to figure what was what and who was who since about last August, as the race drew closer, the frequency had increased. Putting out a video blog prediction for the first time, my coverage was more 21st century than ever.
Thoroughbred racing has many “big” events scattered throughout the year. Each, of course, has its niche and place of importance, but the everyday world reality is nothing is bigger than the Kentucky Derby. Even though I understand there is so much more to this wonderful sport than just the Run for the Roses, most in the everyday world do not. It may be hard for the everyday sports fan to realize, but the magic that surrounds that mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May is unbelievable. The two minutes it takes to travel the distance can be life changing.
So, here I am on the track with about 14 minutes to post time nervous as a long tail cat in a room full of rockers. My prediction was Nyquist and I had stood my ground for weeks now. Of course he had his naysayers, but critics seem to be rampant in everything. A guy that probably couldn’t play in the band wants to detract from the good things an athlete does because negativity is the new norm. The horse was unbeaten and had fought every fight against TOP competition. His trainer Doug O’Neill had kept his charge sound physically and prepared mentally. How could you argue?
Nevertheless, this is the Kentucky Derby and it is by many’s admission the toughest race in the world to win for many reasons. So here I was looking down the homestretch and the call to post trumpeted through the Kentucky air. As Trojan Nation led the field out of the paddock tunnel onto the track the 167,277 in attendance roared their approval. It was almost time. Clad in suit and tie and trying to look like somebody a cold chill suddenly enveloped my body. I started sweating but I was freezing. My stomach was in knots and I felt as if I were going to puke. A physical and mental mess, I thought to myself…man this is great!
As the entrants trotted past me in the post parade and jogged to the gate, I could feel the excitement pulsing through my veins. While some appeared bothered and maybe even a bit spooked, Nyquist was cool as a cucumber and ready for action. Seeing his demeanor calmed my nerves a bit, but the daunting mile and a quarter still was waiting. Then the gates opened and things played out exactly as the unbeaten’s assistant trainer had told me. Earlier that morning Leandro Mora had said the field would break and Nyquist would be near the lead and relax in a stalking spot up the backstretch. The pace would be hot, but their horse was ready and he knew it. Like a pair of pros, Nyquist and jockey Mario Guiterrez executed the game plan to perfection.
As Nyquist turned for home and took command I had an even greater feeling come over me. As he thundered down the stretch and I looked through a camera lens, the muddy waters turned to wine. After this son of Uncle Mo crossed the finish line in front of a closing Exaggerator, bedlam erupted and jubilation ensued. This was history being made. The months of work and preparation poured into this horse was not about the final time of 2:01.31. It was about way more than that. These horses and sometimes the jockeys, owners, trainers, grooms, et al have only one shot at this magical two minutes. Running in the Kentucky Derby is a special moment in the game of life no one can ever take away. And winning it, that cements immortality.
As I proudly strode off the track I knew why all those people in the game laid awake at night in the preceding months dreaming about Churchill glory. I had made a prediction but did not even have a dog in the hunt and I was a made into a mess. The power of the Kentucky Derby… wow! When I slapped fives and bumped fists with O’Neill after the press conference I saw the unadulterated joy and satisfaction he was enjoying now and could hold on to forever. The Kentucky Derby is not about just two minutes, it is about eternity.