Monday, May 8, 2006

Mint Juleps and the Smell of Kentucky Bluegrass

Barbaro_1A twenty-horse field for the 132nd year of the Kentucky Derby and the superlatives swirling around winner Barbaro pile up;


  • Largest margin of victory in 60 years, six and a half lengths

  • 4th win in a row by a first-time trainer

  • Only the 6th undefeated horse to win here

  • 14th fastest run in Derby history

  • 1/5th second slower than Affirmed, the last Triple-Crown winner

  • First Derby win for jockey Edgar Prado

  • Second largest Derby Crowd.

EdgarpradoOne of the great things about horse racing is that it’s so unchanged over the decades since we celebrated horses like Man O’ War, Whirlaway and Citation. Jockeys with legendary names like Eddie Arcaro, Willie Shoemaker and now Edgar Prado continue to sweat out weigh-ins and risk their lives every time the gate opens.


MichaelmatzBean-counters don’t train race-horses at 5:30 in the morning, horsemen (and women) do that. Rock-star CEOs don’t build bloodlines, breeders like Roy and Gretchen Jackson put in the years and tears and cheers that bring champions down to the wire.


Racing is still more Ernie Banks than Barry Bonds, more Bing Crosby than Michael Jackson.


And now the annual dance begins about whether this horse is good enough to be a Triple Crown winner. Before the Derby he was touted as a horse that could only run on turf. But that was before. Can he go a distance? Who knows? He was opening up lengths, not losing them at Churchill Downs.


If trainer Michael Matz, himself an equestrian silver medalist at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, had a near-perfect day, Roy and Gretchen Jackson had double-perfect. Their second entry in the Derby ran sixth and a horse they bred (and sold for $2.1 million) won one of England's classic races, the 2,000 Guineas only hours before the Derby. “We’re in a bit of shock,” said Roy.


CalumetfarmsMatz proved the nay-sayers wrong with his prescriptive rest of Barbaro. No one could possibly win at a mile-and-a-quarter after running only once in the past 13 weeks. No matter that Barbaro won the Florida Derby five weeks ago, Needles was the last horse to win with more than a month of rest and that was fifty years ago. Barbaro’s answer to that was to write a 60 year margin of victory in the record-book.


Those are stories that warm the hearts of old horsemen. Matz is no old man, at least not yet at age 56, but one thing is for sure. Tomorrow he’ll be in the stable at 5:30 in the morning, just as usual.
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See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.