LOUISVILLE -- Trainers preparing for the Kentucky Derby keep saying the same thing, over and over again. The race is wide open. There was Kiaran McLaughlin, a Kentucky native who saddled 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, standing in the morning cold and wind Wednesday on the Churchill Downs backstretch.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It is racing tradition that the winner returns last. They all run their race and then gallop around the turn, gathering themselves up after the effort, slowing and allowing their pulse rates to fall ever so slowly back toward normal while jockeys rise in the irons. And then they come back, clockwise this time, to the finish line, where the riders dismount and the tack is removed from the horse's back for a long walk to the barn. And the winner returns last.
BALTIMORE -- It's been pretty well established at this point that at the age of 43, Calvin Borel owns the Kentucky Derby. Three times in the last four years he has ridden the winning horse in the most important race in America, a transcendent event that owners, trainers and jockeys collectively spend entire careers dreaming of someday just contesting. Never mind winning.
1. CURLIN The decade's only two-time Horse of the Year was a tough-as-nails gamer who, according to trainer Steve Asmussen, "got better the more he got stretched out [pushed hard] in a race." Curlin came back on Street Sense in the 2007 Preakness to score one of the grittiest big-race victories in recent racing history, and then became just the second three-year-old in the 2000s to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. His owners did racing a favor by keeping him on the track as a four-year-old, and he won three more Grade I races before retiring.
Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. There's something to be said for perfection. Horse racing fans got to see it twice this year, in undefeated campaigns by the 5-year-old mare Zenyatta (who has won all 14 of her starts) and the 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra (who won all eight of her starts as a 3-year-old). Both horses are champions, and both will go down in the record books alongside the greatest horses of their gender -- horses such as Twilight Tear, daughter of legendary stallion Bull Lea, who won 11 straight races in 1944 to become the first filly to be voted Horse of the Year, and the great Personal Ensign, who caught Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors at the wire in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff to become the first major horse in 80 years to retire undefeated. For everybody who says that thoroughbred racing cannot produce a star outside of the Triple Crown, it
LOUISVILLE -- They feel neglected. The trainers, the owners, the jockeys. The players in Saturday's 135th running of the Kentucky Derby are part of one of the great sports spectacles in America, and yet this year the stage feels a little smaller. The spotlight leading to the race feels a little dimmer.