The First Saturday In May

Growing up in my house, The First Saturday In May meant one thing.

Derby Day.

Really, all that happened was the four of us would cluster around the TV at about oh, 3:30ish or so and watch the Run for the Roses. Sounds not so exciting, right? But I have to tell you, of all the sporting events you could watch, the only one that could possibly top the greatest two minutes in sports is a World Cup final (maybe.)

I don’t know what it is about it. You’ve got ten, fifteen, up to twenty powerful animals thundering around a track, and by the time they get to the final turn, you’re on the edge of your seat and screaming, either at the track itself (if you’re so lucky) or your TV set, and you’re seconds away from seeing the name of the next horse entered into history.

Secretariat. Seattle Slew. Affirmed. War Admiral. Count Fleet. And lately, Big Brown, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones.

The Derby is the first jewel in the Triple Crown, and heading in to the next race, the Preakness Stakes, you’ve got a heady feeling of anticipation that maybe, just maybe, this’ll be the year we’ll get a Triple Crown winner. Too many close calls in recent years, and I have to say the biggest disappointment was Big Brown. He had a decisive win in the Derby. Beat ’em all back to win the Preakness. Going into the Belmont, he looked fine, despite having missed three workouts due to a small fracture in his hoof. Finishing 9th (dead last) in the Belmont Stakes, there wasn’t anything wrong, physically, with the horse. Personally, I think he just decided he didn’t want to run that day. Brown was the last horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to lose the third.

But we keep coming back for more. Last year’s Derby’s broadcast was the fourth largest in 21 years. The race itself plays out like a blockbuster in high speed: you’ve got your action, your anxiety, your fear as the horses leave the gate, your joy…and sometimes, devastation, like when the filly Eight Belles had to be euthanized on the track after running second to Big Brown in 2008. She beat out eighteen other colts, was the first filly to run in the race in nine years, and the first fatality in the race’s history.

There’s always a story of a horse, or an owner, or a trainer, that’s designed to tug at your heart strings. And there’s always a villain. My personal favorite is trainer Bob Baffert. The man always has multiple horses in the race, yet he’s only won the Derby three times. Oh, and he’s not really a villain. I just like to think he is, not giving the other trainers a chance. Shame, I tell you, for shame!

This Saturday, break out the bourbon and mint, wear your biggest, most outrageous hat, and sing along with the band when they start to play “My Old Kentucky Home.” And scream with excitement with the rest of ’em when the announcer calls out “…And down the stretch they come!”

4 thoughts on “The First Saturday In May

  1. I knew I was getting old when I read a blog post recently that referred to Secretariat, and the comments all talked about the MOVIE, not the actual horse. Sigh. Never seen the film, but I do remember the race.

    1. As in, you actually SAW the race? Because I’m totally jealous if that’s the case. I wish I could have seen his Belmont win…31 lengths. Thirty. One. Lengths. No other horses in sight. Damn, that was a powerful horse.

      1. Nah, I don’t remember actually WATCHING it, but I was 11 years old in ’73, and remember hearing about it. That’s still my point of reference, right? The movie kinda came and went as far as I’m concerned.

  2. I’ve not watched any horse races on TV but my grandparents used to visit Santa Anita every Sunday and I would tag along once in awhile. I picked out the horse with the prettiest name and my mom would place my $2 bet for me. Yes, I was betting on horses at the tender age of 10.

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