April 9, 2016

On the first Saturday every year for 142 years, the Kentucky Derby has been run at Iconic Churchill Downs in Lexington, Kentucky. This year the winner was the overwhelming favorite Nyquist. The odds on Nyquist were 2-1 to win. Nyquist’s record is now 8 for 8.

I have had the good fortune to attend two Kentucky Derbys while working for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. In 1956, I saw Needles win the Derby. Two years later, I saw Tim Tam have the Horseshoe wreath of Roses put around his neck in the Winners’ Circle.

To my younger readers, I mention the Gillette cavalcade of Sports because prior to the explosion that was to come about for American Sports on Sports Media, Gillette owned the exclusive Broadcast rights to all the major events of the day. Basically, it was Radio.

This included the Triple Crown of Racing which consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. All Championship Boxing Matches were broadcast weekly by the Cavalcade as well as all the Bowl Games

At the time, there were only four College Football Bowl Games… The Rose, the Sugar, the Orange and the Cotton Bowl.  Baseball’s World Series, and its All-Star Game rounded out the Gillette package. In that era Baseball was truly America’s National Pastime.

With the advent of Cable, TV and Over-the-Air Pay TV, Radio was no longer the all important medium delivering all news and sports. The new methods of transmission cried for product and thus more events were created… such as the Super Bowl and March Madness.

As my readers know, I have been involved in most sports, professional and amateur. However, Horse Racing is one that I am not well versed in.

In order to report properly, I have turned to my friend Jerry Berger,(the Budweiser guy), for insight, tutoring and knowledge. Over the years, Jerry has not only been a fan, but he has also been a Horse Owner and continues to be a student of racing, constantly studying and following the bloodlines.

In a previous Blog I reported on the “DNA in the NBA”. In Horse Racing, breeding is probably the most important aspect for creating Champions. It is a big business when a Derby champion is mated with a mare that has also been a winner in many stakes races.

For example, Tim Tam, the 1958 winner was sired by 1953 Triple handicap crown winner Tom Fool. Tom Fool’s dam was a champion as well. The $2,000,000 purse is dwarfed by the monies that a winner can return to its owner in retirement.

The mating of Thoroughbreds, is big business and the more races a Horse wins during his racing days, increases his value when he is retired to stud.

The Kentucky Derby has often been called the greatest two minutes in sports. However, those two minutes spawn a week of festivities unseen by any other sporting event anywhere in the world… including the Super Bowl, All-Star Games, or World Series.

There were over 150,000 visitors to the Derby. The results are not in, but in years past, the Kentucky Derby Festival has generated almost $130 million annually for the community and over $300,000 for area charities. To think the whole thing is done with just a professional staff of 23, However, there are over 4,000 volunteers.

Headdresses (Hats) are part of the great Tradition. It is often said that of British Royal Weddings, “Hats must be worn”. There it is a requirement for all female attendees. At the Derby, however, Hats are a cultural and traditional staple. Not only are they steeped in tradition, but when worn, they are also supposed to bring good luck.

Many women travel with more than one hat. So, she wouldn’t be improperly dressed. One lady I met from Oklahoma confided in me that she brought 15.

Women generally wear wide-brimmed Southern-Belle inspired Derby Hats that can be decorated with silk flowers, bows and ribbons among other things. Each day of the week represents 24 hours of partying.

Everywhere you go, the bands, the orchestras, the speakers blast the tune, “My Old Kentucky Home”. When played on Derby Day, it signals the start of the race.

The song is not only an integral part of every party and event. Equally as prevalent as Bourbon, (America’s own liquor) is the Mint Julep. The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century.

Each year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the Kentucky Derby weekend. That amount of Beverage requires more than 10,000 bottles of Bourbon, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice.

When I realize the odds and the amount of money bet on this year’s winner, it seems to be Dwarfed when you see what happened this past month as Leicester City won the Premier League Soccer Championship in England. The odds against Leicester winning were 5000 to 1 against. The upset cost the bookies over $ 27,000,000. The largest payout in English sports history. The 1913 winner, Donerail a 91-1 long shot, to this day is the biggest upset winner in racing.

Although the Kentucky Derby Purse is only $2,000,000, the after-market for the winner, as a Stud, will pay out over the years, multiple times above the initial purse to its owner.

The Sire depending on its previous success while racing and while impregnating its mares, will get thousands of dollars for each coupling. If a foal is successfully delivered, more often than not, the owner of the Sire receives additional monies and continues to own a dramatic piece of the newborn.

As the progeny grows and competes, the owner of the Sire continues to share in the foal’s/horse’s future earnings. Unlike humans, when we are delivered a newborn, as it grows, we continue to pay forever… in a most pleasurable way.

Happy Mother’s Day!