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Kentucky Derby Road Show

Let's be honest about The Masters

Murray: Walton's more than a footnote

Murray: The Leader of the Pirates

Wednesday, May 2, 2001
Qualifying for Derby
By Jim Murray
Special to

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April 25, 1976.

The Kentucky Derby, which is staged Saturday in Louisville, is America's most prestigious horse race. Not its best, just its most prestigious.

One of the reasons it's not the best is because it's not the most selective. If you have a horse and a couple thousand dollars, you can get in.

One result of this is, you have the field cluttered up with selling horses which don't belong there. Occasionally, the race gets so bulky the wrong horse wins it.

One of the solutions for this is to demand a series of qualyfying tests -- make the horses show they are up for the race, fit, qualified, not just out to say they've been there. Proof of quality I leave to the horsemen to set up.

Now, then, there will also be 150,000 humans at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Many of them don't belong there, either. Many of them will bow in the stretch, come up lame, prop, lug in, lug out, become rank -- do all the things green Derby horses do.

Accordingly, I would set up qualifying standards, failure of which to meet would have you turned back at the border, escorted back on the plane, sealed aboard the train or picked up hitchhiking and given 24 hours to get out of town. Barred from the Kentucky Derby would be any of the following:

1. Anyone who has never paid a three-day rate of $250 for a $12-a-day hotel room.

2. Anyone who has never paid $17 for a $3 cab ride.

3. Anyone who has never had his pocket picked.

4. Anyone who has never paid $4 for a third of an ounce of watered whisky with weeds in it.

5. Anyone who has never cried at the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home."

6. Anyone who can tell a boy horse from a girl horse (or Secretariat from a lead pony) from a foot away.

7. Anyone who owns a horse but is not also (a) an actor, (b) a singer, (c) television producer, (d) nightclub comic, (e) disc jockey or (f) a partner of same.

8. Any television executive unwilling to bid millions of dollars for 1 minute and 59 seconds of action.

9. Anyone not willing to get in a game where the house takes the first 15 cents of every dollar and the caterers, concessionaires, touts and distilleries take the rest.

10. Anyone who knows a straight from a flush and which beats which.

11. Anyone who knows enough to say no to a card game on a train, plane or Ohio River boat.

12. Anyone who does know that a tout will be standing by the cashier's window if you go to cash a horse he gave you. (Also anyone who does know he gave every horse in the race to someone and maybe several ones.)

13. Anyone who doesn't run right out and bet everything on the tip he got from the bartender.

14. Anyone who doesn't have a system.

15. Anyone who knows that if you bet a horse to place and he wins, you still win.

16. Anyone who wouldn't cash a check for a guy who says he's a Kentucky colonel or make change for a fifty for a guy who says he owns Honest Pleasure.

17. Anyone who won't pay $50 for Hot Horse Harlan's sealed tip of the day that says "One to a customer, don't pass it around."

18. Anyone who won't say "Just run a tab" in a downtown bar.

19. Anyone not prepared to stay up all night shooting craps with a bunch of guys who know each other.

20. Anyone who won't believe the rumor the favorite "has been standing in ice all week long."

21. Anyone who won't write home for more money by Wednesday.

22. Anyone who can walk in Shed Row and tell which part of the horse is the withers.

If you pass all of the above tests you will be as welcome at Louisville as Man 'O War -- or BankAmericard. If you don't, you don't belong there any more than Warra Nymph -- or two-thirds of the field they're loading in the gates this week. But Louisville is not worried. There are 30,000 thoroughbred candidates foaled for Kentucky every year. But the human kind? There's one born every minute.

This column originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Jim Murray, the long-time sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, won the Pultizer Prize for commentary in 1990. He died Aug. 16, 1998. Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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