LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The 127th Kentucky Derby was Eddie Mac
at the Track's 10th, and it was filled with the usual insanity. Three track
records fell, as did many revelers in the infield. Also going down was
trainer Bob Baffert's Point Given, the 20th losing favorite in the past
21 Derbys. Here's a personal chronicle of the strange and twisted saga:
8:07 a.m.: I turn on the TV in the motel room and see Baffert
being interviewed. When asked about his Derby colts Point Given and Congaree,
he says, "The cream rises to the top." How little we know.
11:37: Baffert's 3-year-old filly Love At Noon smashes a Churchill
Downs record in the first race, rocketing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.34 in
only her second career start.
Noon: Movement is still possible in the limited area in back
of the grandstand and the paddock. Few people seem half in the bag from
consuming too many mint juleps too soon. This will change.
12:20 p.m.: The track is souped up and lightning fast. Lake
Pontchartrain closes off insane fractions (20 4/5 seconds, 43 2/5 seconds)
to win a 6-furlong allowance in 1:08.35. Is Secretariat's Derby record
of 1:59 2/5 in danger?
12:53: Patches of grass are still visible in the infield,
where anarchy rules and political correctness is banned. Shameless excess
is encouraged, and amnesty will be granted for all vices. Thousands of
chemically altered youths frolic, and to most of them the racing is mainly
a rumor. There is much lustful leering in the bright sunshine, and impure
thoughts reign supreme.
1:01: A carryover of $238,458 fuels national Pick 6 fever, and
the great god greed inspires hundreds of thousands to risk much with a
tiny chance of reward. Eddie Mac rises above the temptation. I prefer the
gradual approach to losing, and I try to do it intelligently.
1:09: A 9-1 shot burns many Pick 6 tickets and crunches another
track record, blazing 7 furlongs in 1:20.50. The track for the Indy 500
will be only slightly quicker than Churchill. The winner's name, Alannan,
is pronounced like the abbreviation for Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization
with many potential members among the infield mob.
1:58: Zoom, zoom, zoom. Another race, another track record obliterated
-- and by two horses. Two-year-olds City Street and Open Story dead-heat
after smoking 5 furlongs in 57.38 seconds. On racing's longest day, things
are happening so fast.
2:58: Turf race, so no track record. You can't scrape the grass,
and artificial turf was not an option.
3:07: I stroll through the crowd, where the traffic problems
are worse than the Derby runners will face. I spot a man who wins the "Most
Absurd Hat" contest. It features a mockup of Churchill Downs, complete
with track, horses, roses and a blimp shaped like a flask of Early Times
bourbon. It must have weighed at least 20 pounds, and this masochistic
exhibitionist will need to see a neck specialist soon.
3:13: Trend: The lines for the portable toilets in the infield
have become longer than the ones for beer.
3:30: Track superintendent Butch Lehr is interviewed on ESPN,
and denies the track was scraped to produce quick times. "We've got perfect
weather, and we've got some really good horses running today," Lehr says.
"The horses are what does it." Not without a big assist from some tractor
3:53: A triumph for sentimental favorite George Steinbrenner!
The rich always get richer. The Boss' star filly Dream Supreme takes the
7-furlong Humana Distaff in 1:20.70, only a fifth off the record set by
Alannan less than three hours before.
4:53: White Heart, a 6-1 shot, fries more Pick 6 stabbers when
he edges 9-5 chalk King Cugat in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. Only
an hour and 14 minutes until the next race, the Derby. The wait is excruciating
5:40: A rabbit runs across the turf course and sprints up the
inside rail of the main track. He bolts toward the backstretch barns and
disappears. This bunny was foreshadowing the blazing pace of the Derby,
where Songandaprayer sets record fractions for the half-mile (44.86 seconds)
and 6 furlongs (1:09.25).
5:56: The old, sweet song, Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky
Home," plays as the field of 17 parades beneath the Twin Spires. It's a
cosmic moment that every American and every racing fan should experience
at least once.
6:11: They're off in the Run for the Roses! The roar from the
crowd of 154,210, second-largest in Derby history, is deafening. Monarchos,
a 10-1 shot, draws away to a 4 3/4-length romp and gives John Ward Jr.,
a Kentucky native and the grandson, son and nephew of trainers, the family's
first Derby victory. For a Bluegrass hardboot, it was like entering paradise.