ESPN Horse Racing

So much for the experts
By Jay Cronley
Special to

All the players and fans who watched the 128th Kentucky Derby either at Churchill Downs or on television were able to share the following observations:

That the average horse racing "expert" knows about as much as that guy over there wearing a lamp shade and finishing his first six pack. I have never seen worse "expert" picks in my life than what transpired in this Derby. I had the horses that ran second and fourth and am currently the best handicapper I know. The gap between the railbirds and the "experts" continues to narrow.

That trendy picks in the Derby, like Saarland, are costly.

That great recent form, like Proud Citizen's, is a play.

That late is not so hot in a big one. The role of "stalker" was so desired that a half a dozen major players avoided the lead like there was a 50-mile-an-hour headwind and happily jumped into the middle of the pack, never to recover.

That you can't train a horse like you're heaven's gift to racing.

And that the best horse saw them all, Buddha.

Being at the Derby is obviously a thrill.

But television isn't so bad either.

Here are the special moments that those watching the day at the races on ESPN, ESPN 2 and NBC experienced:

Kenny Mayne has a guest appearance early during ESPN's coverage and makes one of the worst Exacta picks in the history of horse racing.

Country singer George Strait picks Private Emblem and Castle Gandolfo.

During ESPN's coverage, the Goodyear Blimp provides some of the best live shots of any sporting event, ever. Usually blimps provide fluff views, traffic, terrain, crowd scenes, postcard stuff. This blimp covered the races! It was able to zoom in and show from above every bump and grind and was the most innovative sports coverage since, well, name it, perhaps the backseat driver-cam during NASCAR races.

ESPN's Chris Fowler declines to make a Derby pick.

Some actor plugs a movie about hydroplane racing and picks Johannesburg.

Quarterback Peyton Manning picks Johannesburg and Perfect Drift.

Women excel at horse racing coverage and reporting. Outside of the champ, Sportcenter's Linda Cohn, and Monday Night Football's Melissa Stark, most women sports reporters and anchors are unremarkable, save for those who unbutton their shirts and hustle cheesecake over scores. The following women did great on Derby Day horse racing coverage: All of them. Everybody from the first woman of horse race coverage, Charlsie Cantey, to NBC's Donna Brothers out among 'em, to ESPN's Jennifer Burke, Sharlene Hawkes, Jeannine Edwards and Eleanor Mondale, were terrific, particularly in places like the barn and paddock, where a sense of horse racing history is required.

Actor Jerry O'Connell, who says in his next film he takes his shirt off and runs around, brings a little bit of Hollywood to Kentucky, picking "J-burg."

Alice Cooper, looking like he just came to the track from playing 18 holes of golf at a municipal course, picks Came Home.

Churchill Downs gate-keeper Roger Nagle is furious because in order to pass a required starting gate test, a gate was taken to Castle Gondolfo last week.

The television viewing audience gets to listen in as jockey Mark Guidry explains a rider's objection to the stewards; afterward, Guidry's horse is moved from second to first.

Bob Costas and Eddie Delahoussaye experience the dreaded "GE handshake." This handshake is named after the time David Letterman attempted to introduce himself to his new boss, the General Electric CEO. A security guard in the lobby extended his hand to shake Letterman's, then yanked his palm away at the last second. After an interview with Delahoussaye, Costas put out his hand, then took it back. The jockey then did the same thing. Neither move was intentional. It's also known as "The Bill Murray" handshake.

One of the Backstreet Boys picks Saarland, Harlan's Holiday and Perfect Drift. I came into this interview late and couldn't tell you which Backstreet Boy it was and doubt all that many horse players could.

Thank heavens for the celebrities, this is obviously what the "experts" are thinking.

Mayne: Why'd we make this so hard?

Derby loser quotes