The last of the straw was still being swept from the stalls that Breeders’ Cup starters had recently inhabited. The buzz from that Classic finish had barely subsided. The 2010 racing calendar listed a number of stakes races that had yet to be run.
But it had started.
It had started on blogs, in columns, and on Twitter. On lists and in predictions. Maybe even, in press boxes across the country, in conversation.
Derby Talk. 2011 Derby Talk. Six months from now Derby talk. Half a year from now Derby Talk.
Some began with a shame-faced rhetorical question – “Is it too early to start talking about the Derby?” – before resolutely plowing ahead. Others, more confident, began with a proclamation: “It’s not too early to start talking about the Derby…”
Intoxication infuses optimism, anticipation, eagerness to watch the promise of a two-year-old turn into the accomplishments of a three-year-old.
But I can’t join in. I can’t join the Derby-watchers. I can’t start making lists of two-year-olds. I can’t start speculating about preps.
I can’t do it because a) I’m sorry, but yes, it IS too early. It’s much too early. The race is six months away. We know almost nothing, at this point, about who’s going to be in the starting gate. Oh, sure, we’ve got a horse or two that can make us hope… “Is he the one?” … but we get one of those every year (Eskendereya, anyone?), and – sigh – he almost never is. The One. He’s not as good as we thought. He gets hurt. Too often, we are disappointed.
And I can’t do it because b) and I’m sorry, yes, I know that this is sacrilege, but I can’t help it…isn’t this whole Kentucky Derby just a teensy weensy bit over-rated? Not as an event – seems like it would be a pretty fun time, lots of reveling, big buzz, bourbon, all that, and I hope that I get to my first Derby this year. I’d like that.
But I can’t buy into it being some Big Significant Racing Thing. Let’s look at the last decade of Derby winners and their race records following the Derby. The number in parentheses is the age at which they stopped racing.
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus 3-1-1-0 (3)
2001 Monarchos 3-0-0-2 (4)
2002 War Emblem 5-2-0-0 (3)
2003 Funny Cide 31-7-4-8 (7)
2004 Smarty Jones 2-1-1-0 (3)
2005 Giacomo 8-1-0-3 (4)
2006 Barbaro 1-0-0-0 (3)
2007 Street Sense 5-2-2-0 (3)
2008 Big Brown 4-3-0-0 (3)
2009 Mine That Bird 9-0-1-2 (4)
2010 Super Saver 3-0-0-0 (3)
Doesn’t exactly start the heart pounding, does it? Oh, there are bright spots – Big Brown won all but one of his starts after the Derby; Street Sense compiled a respectable record. But the average number of post-Derby wins since 2000 is a whopping…1.45. Derby winners averaged 7.4 starts after their Derby win; take out the geldings, and the number drops to 3.8. More than half were retired at three. For this, I’m supposed to get excited?
So that we can have a Derby winner who is actually something of an accomplished horse, and hold our breaths and hope that we get MAYBE four or five chances to see him race? Or so that we get a Derby winner who got lucky, and who plays out a mediocre career before he, too, heads to the breeding shed? That’s what we have to look forward to? That’s what we all anticipate, months in advance?
No, thank you. Three-year-old colts are about the least interesting demographic in racing, as far as I’m concerned. Would I like to see a Triple Crown winner in my lifetime? Oh, yeah…I can think of little that would be more exciting, and yeah, I know, to win the Triple Crown, you have to win the Derby.
But I’m not going to start thinking now about who’s the best two-year-old and what the future odds will be and what route they might take to Louisville. I’m not going to feel the frissons of a Derby crush, which will practically by definition have to be ephemeral, because if he is good/lucky enough to win, he’ll be gone before we know it.
And it’s not as if the Derby does a whole lot, long-term, for racing. Yeah, people might pay attention in early May, and yeah, they might place a bet or two, and yeah, maybe they’ll stick around for the Preakness. But they’re not betting in July or September or November; they’re not going to the track; they’re not learning to read past performances.
So I’m not going to be thinking too much about the Derby. I’m going to wonder about what Ruthenia’s going to do over the winter. And I’m going to think about what Paddy O’Prado might do next year. And I’m going to dream about Blind Luck, and maybe even Devil May Care, coming back. I’m going to think about the horses who’ve got more on their minds than a single Saturday in May, and who might just stick around to race beyond age three.
And if that’s not enough, if that can’t occupy my sporting mind through the winter months…well, that’s what hockey’s for.
For another perspective on the Derby, check out Ed DeRosa’s most recent post at Big Event Blog…particularly if you disagree with me. :)