Thank You Maureen McGovern: You Give Us All Hope

Kentucky Derby
Gene’s Derby Day was not very enjoyable.

Back in 1972, Hollywood released a very popular movie that was entitled: “The Poseidon Adventure.” For those of you old enough to remember, you may know where I’m headed. For those of you that are not, then you can either go see the movie real quickly or try to read between the lines.

In short, the movie was about an ocean cruise ship that ran into some stormy weather, and, eventually, the liner found itself upside down and the passengers found themselves staring at the bottom of the deep waters.

Needless to say, not a good situation.

With the weather that Churchill Downs, the tremendous throng of people, the horses, trainers, and jockeys endured over this weekend, I thought it was a good analogy and the proper setting for this honest account of my handicapping on Derby Day, in general, and the Run for the Roses, in particular. You are probably now starting to get the picture. Not bad, we’re only four paragraphs in. But…

Needless to say, not a good situation.

Truthfully, the day didn’t start off too badly. My pick in the 6th, (The Grade 1 Humana Distaff), Carina Mia, ran a game third in her first start of the year – after missing the break just a hair. But we had the exacta boxed with the first two finishers, too, and so we managed to survive and move on.

In the 7th, my “double dot” horse, Roca Rojo, got up in the final stride to win the Distaff Turf Mile. Low odds. Missed the exacta, which ticked off one of my cats, Birdie, since the place finisher was named Believe in Birdie. He is kind of a finicky feline to begin with, and now he won’t even talk to me. Cats.

But a win is a win. OK. Not bad.

On to the 8th, the Grade 3 Pat Day. I had the 9, Excitations. I watched this talented colt breeze before he ever ran. The first time out of the starting gate, I bet him good. Real good. He ran a game second, but lost the head bob to Girvin (more on him later). But Excitations won his next start and after a try at two turns, he won again at Keeneland in impressive style. I couldn’t wait until he ran again.

I should have waited.

Excitations didn’t break well. It appeared that he didn’t like the mud slapping him in the face, but, then again, who does. And, he ran a very green and uninspiring race. Yet, not to worry. I spread out in this race, trying to cover with five other horses.

Alas, I didn’t have a single penny on Wild Shot and jockey Corie Lanerie, who splashed away to an easy and impressive win. Darn to heck.

It went downhill from there, about like the water running up and over the shoes of those caught outside the last two days. Oscar Performance was not award-winning or inspiring in the Grade 2 American Turf, won by Mike Smith and Arklow. Masochistic, true to his name, ran even worse in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs, captured by Limousine Liberal (I have to admit I do like the name selected by owner K.K. Ball).

Wheels off. Thank God for ATMs (I guess). Needless to say, not a good situation.

But as soon as we replenished, I looked up and saw my good friend, Buff Bradley walking over from the backside with his 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy, Divisidero. Over the previous four years, Buff had won a race on Derby Day three times – including a year ago when Divisidero won this very same race – 2016 edition.

Hope sprang eternal. And, both Buff and Divisidero delivered. Again. Despite hovering at the back of the pack all the way until the top of the stretch and despite encountering one traffic issue after another, Divisidero finally got a free chance to run and he that’s exactly what he did. Run. He swept past the field in shocking style and won. I couldn’t believe the bettors let him off at 7-2 odds.

Was that a life raft I saw bobbing in the waters, captain?

It was a mirage.

The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby wasn’t my best performance. In fact, I kind of handicapped this one like Thunder Snow ran. He thought he was in a rodeo, bucking and squealing as soon as the gate opened. (The colt is OK, by the way. This is the quote from Dr. Keith Latson, AAEP On Call Veterinarian: “Thunder Snow galloped back to the paddock comfortably under his own power. He was examined by Dr. Jennifer Kaak and was found to have no injuries and walked back to his barn under his own power.”) And, my para-mutel tickets were bucked off.

I had won the Oaks on Friday (you may have heard since we celebrated like Charlie Sheen). I had bet more than a few dollars on the Oaks-Derby double. I was alive with Abel Tasman and six horses in the Derby. Six horses. I was alive a lot with my favorite horse, McCracken.

McCracken was roughed up at the start, sustaining cuts on his left hind leg, but he ran on gamely – getting all the way up to what appeared to be fourth at one time – before flatting out. The other five faltered. I didn’t have a single horse in the top 3.

Needless to say, not a good situation.

My buddy and business partner, Cecil Watts, cooked me a great steak dinner. That had a retail value of well over $150, so I can credit that as a win. He tried to console me, which saved me another hour with the brain doctor, retail value $250. And, he jokily laughed that he was going to set up a Go Fund Me account. Laughter = $1,000, let’s say.

I limped home. Went to bed. But I woke up sharply at 5 a.m. A song was dancing in my head:

“There’s got to be a morning after

If we can hold on through the night

We have a chance to find the sunshine

Let’s keep on looking for the light

“Oh, can’t you see the morning after?

It’s waiting right outside the storm

Why don’t we cross the bridge together

And find a place that’s safe and warm?

“It’s not too late, we should be giving

Only with love can we climb

It’s not too late, not while we’re living

Let’s put our hands out in time

“There’s got to be a morning…

The title and theme song to “The Poseidon Adventure.” Sung beautifully by Maureen McGovern. I have it in my ITUNES.

Popped right out of bed and headed to the Churchill Downs backside. Ran into several friends (or they used to be until they took my advice yesterday!)

Feeling good, I went on over to Wagners and dropped down scrambled eggs and bacon. Bought a couple of today’s edition of Thoroughbred industry’s bible, “The Daily Racing Form.”

 A racetracker plopped down in the chair beside me at the bar. He looked over and said, I promise, “Do you have a winner today? I sure could use a winner.”

Immediately, I said:

“Well there is a horse at Santa Anita this afternoon that I have been watching for a long time. I love Hitters Park in the 7th there. You can hit a home run there.”

He borrowed my pen and wrote it down.

Thanks Maureen. You give us all hope…

This was a steppingstone and that’s all we needed. He’ll come back good. We wanted to run a good race. I don’t think the fans and everybody else could have had a better finish from the two horses they thought were going to run like they expected.

“Bolt hadn’t run in a while. I had one three-quarter work in him; this wasn’t the race we were looking forward to. We’re looking forward to the Santa Anita Derby (April 7) and then that next race that I won’t mention yet (Kentucky Derby May 5).”

Asked is this was the best he ever felt in defeat: “Oh, yes. Coming into this race, (he dragged them)

from the receiving barn to the paddock. In the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile Nov. 4), his head came down a little bit, he didn’t have as much life. The horse is good right now. Hopefully, we’re moving forward and he’ll be at his best in a couple months. This horse has the heart of a lion. Nine weeks ago he was undergoing a nuclear scan and here we are today. Just being within a nose of Baffert, I’m happy.

“I wasn’t even thinking about the inquiry the whole time. I was just so proud of Bolt, and if he got moved up, he did. This wasn’t the race we were really pointing for. We want to go to the Santa Anita Derby, but getting moved up is awesome; we’ve got enough (Kentucky Derby qualifying) points (50).”

Mick Ruis, Bolt D'Oro Owner/Trainer, Winner San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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