2018 Kentucky Derby / Oaks: Horseshoes Down

(Monomoy Girl and rider Florent Geroux celebrate after winning the Kentucky Oaks & overcoming an ill-advised claim of foul / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Just the other day, I wrote a piece on all the positive things that happened before, during, and after the Derby Week 2018. So many things to be proud of, and stand up for and behind. So many things to be thankful for, and people to give praise to.

What about Churchill Downs being the proud home for 144 Kentucky Derbies — recognized around the world as the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports?” Is there a single year that goes by that the world-renown institution doesn’t make improvements to the real facility and the accommodations to make your experience just a little more enjoyable?

What about Louisville, KY. being the destination location for one of the world’s most revered events, attracting visitors and their money to Our City, Our State, Our Commonwealth. Untold millions are spent here, helping every walk of life; helping everyone that walks through this life in Our Place.

What about all the hard working men and women — from the volunteers who operate food stations, to the vendors, to the elevator attendants, to the security officers, to the horsemen and horsewomen, to the starting gate crew, to the track maintenance personnel, to the cleanup crews, to the every single person who helps make this extravaganza extraordinary. What about those people? A little applause, right?

I walk away from the event each year amazed.

You know how difficult it is to plan and put on a dinner party for 10. Drives you nuts, right? The seating arrangement. The food. The conversation.

How about planning, gearing up, executing a dinner party for 10 x 15,000 and then turning around the next day and doing it again the very next day?

And, to just make it a little more fun, let’s have a water leak in the house that dumps about 3.5 inches of moisture in the kitchen the entire day.

Think about that one for just a second.

Who else in the world can pull off that feat? Who?

We have a neighbor right here in Kentucky that does it every year. And, they make it even more special each time.

To paraphrase the great singer, songwriter Lee Greenwood, it makes you proud to be a Kentuckian.

I referred to those local heroes with “Horseshoes Up” in the first column. To all those people responsible for making this year’s Derby Week one of the “Best in Show” — my heart-felt thanks, my hearty congratulations, my utmost respect.

Today, I am going to offer some “Horseshoes Down.” These are aimed at those individuals and circumstances that, for one reason or another, try to diminish one of the most spectacular events to occur each year. Try as they must, though, we overcome. We always overcome.

(Wettest Derby Day in history / Photo by Kelly Sears)

4 Horseshoes Down:

  1. Weather Forecasters: All week, our local weather personalities promised us that Derby 2018 would be played under sunny and warm conditions with a touch of a northern breeze. Oh, they warned of 100% chance of rain on Friday for the Kentucky Oaks. But they promised that “front” would move out, and we would have nothing but sunny skies by the time we got around to Saturday. So much for that expensive radar equipment, and “StormTracker Alert,” right? Not only did they miss the forecast on Friday, when it didn’t rain at all (like in 100% chance of no rain!), we were hit with nearly 3.5 inches of rainfall on Saturday. We broke a 100-year record for rainfall on Saturday by nearly an inch. Let’s put that in horse terms. That would be like picking the horse in the race after the Kentucky Derby to win the “Run for the Roses.” I know we live in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where the saying goes: “If you don’t like the weather, stick around a hour and it will change.” But really? This is the best you got? The only way you save face, in my opinion, is that you all come out to the track, stand at the finish and allow us all to take the fire hose to you. Just kidding. Sorta. Kinda. Maybe. At least don’t run those self-promoting ads about how accurate your “Weather Alert” team is for awhile, OK? That’s rubbing rain in the wound.
  2. Caton Bredar: Let me start this segment by stating frankly and openly that I like Caton Bredar. Both professionally and personally. Although I doubt very seriously that she would ever remember me from days gone by, I got to know her for the first time some 27 years ago. My good friend/brother Rob Murphy and I owned a filly at the time by the name of E. Hagins, a well-bred daughter of His Majesty. I bought her as a yearling at Keeneland for the two of us, and after she was broken to saddle and riding, we sent her to trainer Butch Richards at Calder Race Course. One of Butch’s exercise riders at the time was a young lady by the name of Caton Bredar. Nearly every morning, she got up on E. Hagins and took her to the track for her exercise routine. Every since then, I have watched and followed Caton’s career path. Needless to say, she has had a lot more success in her races than E. Hagins ever did in hers. And, without question, Caton is one of the most well-spoken, knowledgable, experienced, and thoughtful on-air talents in the world on horse racing commentators. That being written, I will add the following: the dust (if it had happened on Saturday, there would have only been mud) that she kicked up on Derby week about being “denied media credentials” by Churchill Downs and being “removed from the WAVE-TV Derby Day coverage team” was unfortunate, unfair, amateurish, and, to be honest, selfish. And, to launch a social media campaign to somehow win favor from the masses, who do not understand the full story, is less than professional reporting on her part. The fact is this: Caton Bredar, by her own admission on her “Linkedin” page, is an “On Air Host at Betfair US TVG Network.” And, the fact is this: her employer is a competitor of Churchill Downs. Every single day, that organization — Betfair US TVG — attempts to recruit customers and betting dollars away from the racetrack and Churchill Downs’ own TwinSpires.com advance deposit wagering system. Every single day, TVG does not carry Churchill Downs live racing signal. And, every single day, TVG shows, airs, and televises races that go to the post at almost the exact same time as those from Churchill Downs, and its’ affiliated tracks tracks — such as the Fair Grounds, and Arlington Park. That may not be — and probably is not — Caton’s fault. But it is the fact. And, to put Caton on a live telecast emanating from Churchill Downs is almost tantamount to putting up a walking billboard for people to bet with her employer and competitor — whom she is rightfully and respectfully identified with and for — instead of at or with Churchill Downs. Think for a second, will you? Do you think that ESPN would allow their highly paid representatives to switch networks to call the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the NCAA Championships if they didn’t own the broadcast rights to them? Do you think that the network that owns those rights would want a personality identified with a competitor to be showcased on their major events? When WAVE-TV and NBC negotiate for the rights to broadcast the Kentucky Derby and all of is races throughout the day, that is a legal agreement that gives Churchill Downs some ability to approve the broadcasters. Happens in every sport. For Churchill Downs to ask NBC and WAVE to have an on-air personality that does Not work for a competitor is Not too much to ask. And, for Caton to act like it was too much to ask is definitely too much ego over substance. The Kentucky Derby is bigger than a TV analyst. Period.
  3. Mendelssohn Haters / Bashers: Before the dust (there’s that word again), er, mud had settled following the running of the 144th Kentucky Derby, the world-wide betting public was already bashing on the European invader Mendelssohn, and the colt’s highly-acclaimed connections, like trainer Aidan O’Brien. Social media critics were the worst. Ridicule. Scorn. Hatred. There were comments that fell into all three of those categories. And, it is truly unfortunate. For many reasons. First, the horse truly had no chance after breaking a bit tardy from the gate. He was hammered from the outside. He was rammed from the inside. And, he nearly clipped heals more than once on his front side. Nobody’s fault, really. That is just what happens in the 20-horse field that is called the Kentucky Derby. Someone is likely to be hit. A year ago, it was McCraken and Classic Empire to get the worst of things. But the winner of the UAE Derby by over 181/2 lengths never got much of a chance. In short, the fact that he ran 20th and last on Saturday was not his fault or a commentary on his ability or talent. He never got an opportunity to display that. Secondly, we are all winners when the Kentucky Derby becomes a true international event and attracts unconventional and untested horses to American racing. It attracts a world-wide viewing and rooting audience. It attracts more betting into our pari-mutuel pools. It makes the event bigger, stronger, deeper and wider. We all should encourage our brethren in the horse industry to ship here and run, race, compete. Not discourage by bashing. Third, the race surface condition certainly didn’t help a horse trying to transition from a turf history full of celebrity status into a top end dirt competitor. Simply put, one race over a muddy American track should not be seen as a defining moment in this horse’s career. He didn’t win on Saturday. But neither did 19 others.
  4. My Handicapping on Oaks Day: I had one winner. One. Pitiful.

(Monomoy Girl whips Wonder Gadot in the KY Oaks / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

3 Horseshoes Down:

  1. PETA: After the hack job these people did on Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and his staff a couple of years ago, it is a crying shame that anyone, anywhere, at any time gives them an audience, or a platform. Simply put, these people are embarrassingly ignorant as to life, care, and nature of Thoroughbred racing. Enough written.
  2. John Velazquez: The Hall of Fame rider is undoubtedly one of the best, most professional, and expert riders in the history of our game. No question about that. But his claim of foul following the 144th running of the Kentucky Oaks was not one of his prouder moments. The simple truth is that Monomoy Girl ran an unbelievable, courageous, gutty, gritty, spectacular, amazing, beautiful, and completely fair race to win the Kentucky Oaks. Whatever alleged swipe that the filly had with Velazquez’ mount, Wonder Gadot, in the mid- to late-stretch — if there was any at all — was so minuscule that it had absolutely no impact or affect on the outcome of that race whatsoever. Zero. And, to allege that it did — as Velazquez did on national television coverage before the stewards ever rendered a final decision — was poor judgment. One can only hope that the owner — or someone else whose good judgment was altered by raw emotion — encouraged Velazquez to make a claim of foul. If not, JV should apologize for wasting the time of the stewards; for causing consternation in the betting public; and for distracting from a great moment and great accomplishment by a great race horse.
  3. My Handicapping on Oaks Day: I had one winner. Are you kidding me? Pathetic.

(Justify captures the 144th Kentucky Derby in style / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

2 Horseshoes Down:

  1. Final Time of the Kentucky Derby: Ever since Saturday evening, when some of us started to preach the virtues of one 3-year-old colt by the name of Justify, certain skeptics had called his impressive, stylish, and dominating victory in the Kentucky Derby “suspect.” According to them, the final time for running the 11/4-mile endurance test over the mud-laden track — which was 2:04.20 — was too “pedestrian” to call him one of the race’s greatest winners, and too slow to compare to the likes of Secretariat, American Pharoah, and others. I am reminded by what the late, great trainer Woody Stephens used to say when someone asked him about the “time of a race” and would call one of his horse’s into question. Woody, one of my most favorite people of all time, would say that “time only matters when you are in jail.” He was right, of course. He normally was. But when you dissect the race a bit more and look at the fact that Justify was sitting chilly and just off the flank of Promises Fulfilled in a first quarter time of a blistering :22.24; and was right with him when they went the first half mile in an amazingly quick :45.77; and was in the lead after going 6 furlongs in 1:11.01 — and still pulled away to win? Well, a good friend of mine put that into perspective best by making this statement: “Why don’t you go and ask Bobby Hurley (an owner) what happened to his horse (Songandaprayer) after he went the first half of the Kentucky Derby in :45 and change.” For the record, Songandaprayer set the early fractions in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, going the first quarter in :22.1 and the half in :44.4. over a fast track. He finished 13th — out of 17 — in the race eventually won by Monarchos.
  2. My Handicapping on Oaks Day: I had one winner. One. Sickening.

(First Kiss, my horse, didn’t win on KY Oaks Day and I didn’t either / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

1 Horseshoe Down:

  1. Aiden O’Brien: Maybe he should try to get to Churchill Downs a little earlier next time. Mendelssohn made it to the track for the first time on “Thurby” morning. Just 48 hours later, he was running in the Kentucky Derby. Didn’t work.
  2. My Handicapping on Oaks Day: If you are counting, that is a total of 10 “Horseshoes Downs.” That may be more than my list of winners for all of Derby week. But you get the idea. Sad.

 

He’s a fighter. If you’ve ever watched him, you’ve seen thaT. With the track playing a little fast today, I told Jose (Lezcano) he was going to like this track. The one thing about him is, if he gets in a battle, he’s going to win the battle. As long as the track is fairly firm, I think he’ll run on anything. I would say there is a good chance (to return for the Grade II, $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10), but it’s something I have to talk to Mr. (John) Oxley about. I would also say I was kind of wishy-washy about trying him on dirt, and Mr. Oxley said ‘Can we do it one more time?’ He is the boss, so I said ‘Of course.’ ”

MARK CASSE, FLAMEAWAY, WINNER, FLAMEAWAY, WINNER
  • 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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