Ten good reasons to like the Kentucky Derby

10:09 AM, May 4, 2012   |    comments
Kentucky Derby courtesy AP
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By Mike Lopresti, USA TODAY

They'll be going to the post soon, so today we stop and smell the Kentucky Derby roses.

Don't know place from show? Not a problem. There are still plenty of reasons to admire this cavalry charge, even if it is an obvious example of unfair labor practice, since the horses do nearly all the work and the owners get nearly all the money.

But we quibble. This is the one day America pays attention to horse racing, just like Feb. 2 is the only day anyone cares what a groundhog does. So here are 10 reasons to like the first Saturday in May in Louisville.

    STORY: Analysis: Union Rags poised to win Derby

1. Missouri jumped to the SEC, Boise State is somehow ending up in the Big East and even Butler just changed conferences for a better deal. But this is the gold standard in American sport stability; same event, same place for 138 years.

Let us raise our $10 mint juleps to a race that had been run 21 times before the birth of the modern Olympics and 92 times before the first Super Bowl.

2. Where else do 3-year-olds stand still for pictures?

3. You have to love the names. Basketball might have a Kobe, and golf might have Tiger. But do any of them have a Daddy Nose Best?

4. It might be different for John Calipari down the road in Lexington, but this is a place where nobody cares that the champions are always one-and-done.

5. The horses do not start bar fights, smash glass in anger or tweet their way into trouble.

6. No flurry of timeouts at the end. When they say two minutes at the Kentucky Derby, they mean two minutes. When they say two minutes at the end of an NBA playoff game, they mean 15.

7. A quarterback wins the Super Bowl, he's probably going to Disney World. A horse wins the Derby, he's probably going to stud.

8. This is not Augusta. Girl horses have been allowed in for years.

9. Upsets are always possible. Just three years ago, Mine That Bird won at 50-1. If you bet on a team with odds like that in your NCAA Tournament bracket in March, you'd have been betting on New Mexico.

But over in the paddock, the long shots know that the favorites put their horseshoes on one hoof at a time, like everybody else.

10. The owners. Always a collection of unusual stories, curious pasts and vast bank accounts.

Come Saturday, Alpha will represent the sheik and ruler of Dubai, who has 19 kids. Favorite Bodemeister the entrepreneur from Cairo. Take Charge Indy the couple whose corporation that supplies paper and plastic bags was started by the wife's idea in a dairy barn in Illinois.

One of the favorites, Union Rags, is owned by Phyllis Wyeth, who worked for President Kennedy and suffered a broken neck and spinal cord injuries in an auto accident at the age of 20. She once sold Union Rags but bought him back after having a dream that the two could do great things together.

Then there's Hansen, a white horse coming to us from Kendall Hansen, who originally learned about betting the ponies while working in an Indianapolis Ford plant. He made enough money at the track to help pay his way through medical school and now operates a pain management clinic in Kentucky.

Earlier this spring, he was going to race Hansen with a tail painted Wildcat blue. Officials suggested he change his mind.

You think the Stanley Cup has stories like this?

When it is over Saturday, the winner will neither trash talk, taunt nor ask for his contract to be renegotiated. Some sport champions wave to the crowd, exchange high-fives and get doused with champagne.

This one will just trudge back to the barn for some oats.

What's not to like?

Writers' Derby picks

Jerry Bossert, NY Daily News: Union Rags

Bob Ehalt, ESPNNY.com: Union Rags

Bob Fortus, Times-Picayune: Gemologist

Ed Fountaine, New York Post: Union Rags

Beth Harris, AP: Union Rags

Tom Law, Thoroughbred Times: Creative Cause

Bill Marshall, Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle: I'll Have Another

Ed McNamara, Newsday: Gemologist

Richard Migliore, HRTV: Union Rags

Ron Mitchell, Blood-Horse Magazine: Daddy Nose Best

Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY: Union Rags

Jennie Rees, Louisville Courier-Journal: Take Charge Indy

Mike Welsch, DailyRacing Form: Daddy Nose Best

Gary West, ESPN.com: Bodemeister

Tim Wilkin, Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union: Gemologist

Alicia Wincze, Lexington Herald-Leader: Gemologist

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