kentucky derby 2008

Uncategorized — May 1, 2010

Seems that the first Saturday in May crept up on me in 2010. In fact, I had no idea it was even May until the race was over … must be the first Kentucky Derby I haven’t bet on in 7 years at least … Guess that’s the price to pay for living on an island.
Anyway, as a tribute to this year’s racing season, I wanted to turn back the clock to 2008 …

* * *

So there it was the first Saturday in May and we needed to find the closest off-track betting parlor. Of course, the Space Coast doesn’t have its own horse track, so I was forced to settle for the next best thing…the Melbourne Dog Track.

It was a strange way to witness the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby. And although I hadn’t followed the horses for some time, well, as a gambler, it was only appropriate that I take the proper actions to ensure I got a bet down on somebody, for better or worse. Besides, with horse racing as with many other things, the less you know can be better….this way I could go in with a clear head. I didn’t have all that pre-race gibberish clouding my mind, distorting my judgments…

Unfortunately we had blown all of our cash on a late lunch, so we pulled into Wal-Mart on our way over to get some more. The dog track in Melbourne is located directly behind the Supercenter on Wickham Road. We cashed a check for $60 and headed over.

The parking lot of the track was overgrown with weeds and crowded. I assume more than usual, judging by the looks of the place. This is probably one of their busiest days of the year. I pulled out the Racing Form and we sat in the car and scanned the races.

“Don’t tell me who you’re going to bet just yet,” Chanda said as we parked. “Let me look at them first…”

Which was fine by me. I’d let her make her own choice. In fact, I wanted her to. She had, on occasion, picked some really good ones…ones I never would have touched…which came back with some big payoffs. Which supports the notion that sometimes the less you know…

Right away I was drawn to BIG BROWN, a lightly-raced three-year-old colt who looked absolutely exceptional. He was a clear-cut standout, and I was happy to have arrived at a decision so easily, as the Kentucky Derby is always one of the most difficult races to properly handicap. Because every horse in there is good, they were all entered in there for a reason. And the fact that there were 20 horses entered into the race didn’t make things any easier. Twenty horses meant pure chaotic madness. Anything could happen in that mess. And unfortunately BIG BROWN was hung out on the far outside in post 20.

Which didn’t make me rest easy, but BIG BROWN was the only horse in the race with big speed figures that had any indication of early speed. All of the other obvious contenders were big closers. I wasn’t comfortable betting closers to begin with, and since there were so many of them I found it best to just leave them aside.

I checked the odds. Sure enough, BIG BROWN was the 3-1 morning line favorite. Shit. I hated betting favorites. Especially in the Derby, because for all those reasons and more, well, it’s just a chaotic mad dash where anything can happen. So I guess I hadn’t stumbled upon any secret.

But BIG BROWN just looked too good. I couldn’t ignore him. In fact, 3-1 was probably a bargain. He should have been even money. I scanned the PP’s again to try and find another horse or two to play with him. COLONEL JOHN was the other obvious contender, but he was one of the closers. He was 4-1. I couldn’t make any money in an exacta playing the two favorites, so I decided to bet against him.
Other than that, a strong case could be made for about ten other horses. Finally I decided on the two horse, TALE OF EKATI, and the five horse, EIGHT BELLES. TALE OF EKATAI was coming off a win in the Wood Memorial, having defeated a horse named War Pass. War Pass wasn’t entered into the Derby (because I hadn’t been following the horse race scene, I didn’t know why), but he had won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as well as many other high-end stakes races, judging by the number of times I saw his name appear in the PP’s.
So at 15-1 I thought TALE OF EKATI looked pretty solid.

For my other longshot I decided on EIGHT BELLES, who was a filly entered in against the boys. You don’t see many fillies entered into the Derby, and only a few have ever won it… but you’d think if the trainer entered her in here, he did so for a reason. She must have at least an outside shot. At least that was my logic. Besides, she had won her last four starts, and did so impressively. Her speed figures were solid, she looked as good as any. She was 20-1 on the line.

“Alright, I think I’m ready,” I said, turning to Chanda.

“I can’t decide,” she said, shaking her head. “They all look good…I like too many…”

“Which ones?”

“All of them.”

“All of them?”

”Yeah, almost. Can I bet a bunch of them?”

“Sure, if you want to…but it’s not really a very good strategy…”

“Who do you like?”

“I’m going with Big Brown,” I said. “I mean, he’s the favorite, and I hate that he’s the favorite, but he just looks too good…”

“Oh, yeah I like him,” she said. “I’m going to put one of my bets on him.”

“I think you should bet it all on him…”

“Well… I want to bet on a few others too. Are you going to bet anybody else?”

“I’m going to bet $20 to win on Big Brown, then probably play him on top of the two and five for an exacta and tri…”

“Oh…”

“So are you ready?” I asked her.

“Yeah I guess …”

And so we locked the car and made our way inside. The dog track was small, and the grandstand looked like a giant metal shed that was old and run down. We walked past the valets and into the front doors. One of the local radio stations had a booth set up by the entrance. A group of scantily-clad beer girls were passing out stickers and t-shirts as dirty old men looked on. Chanda was horrified by the scene. I put my arm around her and we pushed past them and passed through the glass doors. The race track is no place for classy women. And although the Kentucky Derby may be the exception to the rule, we were a long ways from Churchill Downs.

We made our way through the crowd, found a wall of TVs. We needed current odds. Simulcasts were going off on each screen from all over the country; Hollywood Park, Calder, Pimlico, Belmont, Arlington, Bay Meadows, etc… plus a variety of greyhound tracks. Finally we located a TV with the feed from Churchill but they didn’t have any derby odds. Just a bunch of talking heads babbling on and on….

I heard one of the commentators say: “The last time a horse won from post 20 was 1915…”or something ridiculous like that. That’s why I didn’t like to listen to the pre-race analysis. Any of it. They were always bringing up pointless statistics like this, which, used outside of the proper context really had no bearing on anything….I mean, for one thing there aren’t 20 starters in every Derby, and even when there have been how many of the horses from that post even stood a realistic shot? You can bring up worthless stats on anything. Sometimes I think they keep too many stats. That’s why knowing less is better….once you know too much you get caught up in all this meaningless crap and your mind wonders too far from the things that actually matter…like the horse itself. Right.

We kept pouring over our Racing Form. Chanda was trying to finalize her decision. Well, decisions. Finally after two commercial breaks and ten more minutes of senseless jabbering, the odds were finally displayed on the screen…quickly. The first 10 flashed up, then the other 10 flashed up a few seconds after. I couldn’t read all of them, but did manage to notice the 20 read 5-2 at the bottom. Damn.
Chanda was still flipping through the Racing Form.

“Are you ready to bet?” I asked her.

“Um, I guess so…did you see the odds on your horse? Are they better?”

“No..they’re betting him pretty good. But at least he’s not even-money, or lower. Five-to-two is still a decent price…”

“What were you going to bet again?”

“I’m going to put $20 to win on Big Brown, and then play exactas and tri’s with him on top of Eight Belles and Tale of Ekati.”

She scratched her head and flipped through some more pages. “Oh, okay…um…What does that mean?”

“The exacta means you are picking the first and second place horses, and the trifecta is the first three finishers…I could box all three and it would cost $6…and those three horses would have to come in first, second and third in any order. But I don’t want to spend that much money. So I’m going to play Big Brown on top, which means he has to win, and Eight Belles or Tale of Ekati would have to come in second for me to get the exacta, and those two would have to finish second and third for me to get the trifecta.”

“Oh.”

“You understand?”

“I think so.”

“So who are you going to bet? Did you decide?”

“Well, I like your horse, Big Brown…so I think I’m going to put $4 to win on him. Then I’m going to put $3 on Geyego, $3 on Recapturetheglory…uh, $2 on Cowboy Cal…hmmm….letsee…” (she flips the pages) “uh, $2 on the 14, $2 on the 15…”

“Jesus, are you betting all of them?” I interrupted.

“Well, not all of them…”

“How many?”

“Well, um…letsee….just…uh, ten of them…”

“TEN?”

“Yeah… is that bad?”

I shook my head. I didn’t know what to say. I guess technically it does increase your chances of getting the winner, although it probably doesn’t mean you’ll win money. I was sort of hoping she’d magically stumble upon some 40-1 longshot and just go with that…but apparently she was having as much trouble separating them as anybody.

“Let’s go make out bets,” she said. “I’m ready!”

I scanned over the room. I hated it when I was in line waiting to make a bet and the person in front of me didn’t know what they were doing and took five mintues to make pointless bets. I didn’t want to be one of those people.

“Uh, maybe we should go to an automated machine…” I suggested.

“Why? Are you embarrassed…”

“Well, uh, it just might be easier, that’s all….I mean, that’s a lot to tell a teller…”

We walked over to the automated machine, but couldn’t get the bills to feed into it.

“Can we just go to a window?” she asked. “I don’t like these things…”
I sighed. “Oh, alright…”

So we stood in line and made our way up to the counter. When we got there we an old red headed teller clerk looked up at us, already exhausted after a long day.

“We’re going to make some bets for the Derby,” I told her. “I need twenty to win on the twenty…a dollar exacta with 20 on top of the two and five….a dollar trifecta with the 20 on top of the two and five…and two dollars to win on the five…”

She punched them in as I spoke and the machine spat out my four tickets in turn. $26. I handed her the money and took my tickets. Chanda looked at me, then looked at the Racing Form she had all marked up. “Go ahead, tell her…” I said, and bowed out of the way.

Chanda cleared her throat. “Okay..um…I want four dollars to win on the 20….three dollars to win on the 19….three dollars to win on the 18…two to win on the 17…two to win on the 15…um, hold on….two on the 14….two on the 11…two on the 10…two on the 7…okay, only a few more…two on the 6…two on the 5…I’m sorry, one more …and two on the 4….ok, that’s it.”

I shook my head as the machine dispensed the final ticket. There was a whole stack of them sitting in there. $28 total. “Good luck,” the lady said as she took our money, and we walked off.

We walked over near a television monitor and I jammed the tickets into my pocket. They were talking about another horse, the 16. DENIS OF CORK. Chanda flipped the Form back open.

“They’re right,” she said. “He does look good!” She pointed at his PP’s. “Look, he’s only lost one race….”

“Well, did you bet him?” I asked.

“No,” she said, shuffling through her tickets. “I don’t know why I didn’t bet him. Denis of Cork…hmmmm.. He looks so good. Maybe I should go back and bet him….”

I shook my head. “I think you’ve made enough bets…”

“Yeah…but now he’s going to win…just because we stood here and talked about it…”

“That may be true, but you still shouldn’t make any more bets. You’ve already bet half the field…if you can’t get the winner out of those, then I think it just wasn’t meant to be….”

She sighed. “Oh… alright.”

Some time passed. We found a bigger screen to ensure we had a good view of the race. Finally the horsesere loading into the gate. BIG BROWN was the last to go in. I watched as he loaded into the 20 slot way out in the auxiliary gate, far, far on the outside. Jesus, it was a long ways out there. Then he was in. They were all in. The camera view switched back to a shot of the front of the gate. There was a pause of silence, then the bell rang loudly and the gates all swung open. Twenty horses shot out in a mad dash for the front as all hell broke loose. People were screaming from all around.

BIG BROWN broke well and slowly began to work his way inward. He didn’t get pushed back in the shuffle like so many of the other horses. BOB BLACK JACK was in the lead, and was still in front going into the first turn. BIG BROWN was only a few lengths behind in fourth or fifth, but he was four-wide. He was still four-wide into the backstretch, but it appeared that he was moving along so easily. He hadn’t been asked for anything yet.

I was glad he was up towards the front. That’s why I always preferred to bet front runners instead of closers. At least they were in the race at some point. If you bet a closer and he never makes a late bid then you never even had anything to cheer for throughout the race. You were just busy looking for your horse who was buried in the back and was never a factor. But when you’re on the front end, you’re where the action is. The excitement.

Heading into the final turn, BIG BROWN was finally asked to go. He still looked like he was moving along easily. But as the horses made their way into the stretch, BIG BROWN began to run. Making his bid on the outside, he suddenly blew past the leaders and increased his lead with every stride.

A smile began to creep across my face. There was still another furlong to go, but he had this race won. Then I noticed EIGHT BELLES had emerged from the pack behind him, and looked to be in sole possession of second. The smile began to grow bigger. But BIG BROWN pulled farther and farther ahead, and when he hit the finish line he was so far in front I couldn’t even see who crossed the line second. The camera zoomed in on BIG BROWN, the winner, as he galloped out.

“YOU WON!!!” Chanda screamed. I felt a tinge of excitement run though me.

“I know! I know!” I said. “…did you see who was second?

“I couldn’t tell…”

“I think that was Eight Belles…”

“Really?”

We stood watching the tv, but they were just talking about how amazing of a horse Big Brown was. I had to agree. But what about the rest? What about the payoffs? A reporter rode out on a horse and was talking to Kent Desormeaux, the jockey. He was saying it felt great, that he wanted to thank his family, etc., etc…Then they cut to a shot of Richard Dutrow, the trainer. Everybody around him was screaming, he was yelling…there was a lot of excitement.

Finally one of the announcers in the booth said that “it looked like something was wrong with the second-place finisher, Eight Belles…” Then they cut to commercial.

“Goddamn it,” I said. “What kind of way is this to get information?”

“Did they say she finished second?” Chanda asked.

“Yeah, it sounded like it….but they still haven’t posted the payoffs. And what about the rest of the horses?”

We sat there, waiting, looking at our tickets. Finally the commercials were over, and we were back at Churchill. Now they were reporting that, yes, in fact something was wrong with Eight Belles. They cut to a shot of the track. There was a truck and trailer on either side of the horse, and an ambulance backing in from behind, blocking all view. It didn’t look good for Eight Belles.

“What’s wrong?” Chanda asked.

“They’re going to put her down,” I said.

“Really?”

“Probably. Look at the way they have surrounded the horse with the trailers, so nobody can see it. It must be serious too, if they are going to do it here of all places…”

“Oh no!” she cried.

“Relax,” I said, trying to calm her down. “They probably won’t do it here…I mean, this is the Kentucky Derby. There’s 200,000 people jammed into Churchill Downs, and millions watching on TV. The last thing anyone connected with that race wants to do right now is kill that horse right there on the track….”

Of course, if it was any other race it would have already been done. The commentators were speculating about it. “Could be a heart problem, or exhaustion…” one of them was saying. Then they said, “Well, we’re going to go live to the track veterinarian for an update…”
They cut to a shot of the vet standing solemnly down on the track, near the ambulance. They shoved a microphone in his face, and asked for an update of Eight Belles’ condition. “Well…” the vet said slowly, looking at the ground, “unfortunately she broke both her front legs and had to be euthanized immediately…”

Well, I thought, I guess not much else needs to be said. That puts an end to the speculation. And put a damper on the day, for many of the happy-faced race fans. I looked over at Chanda, who looked distraught.

“They…they…killed her?” she asked.

“Yep.”

“Awwww…that poor horse…that’s….that’s so sad…” she said. “Isn’t that sad?”

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

She honestly looked like she was about to cry. I didn’t really know what else to say. I was just happy the horse crossed the finish line before it dropped dead.

“I wonder what that exacta pays…”

We slowly made our way back through the crowd towards the teller. My $20 bet on Big Brown returned $68, and the exacta with Eight Belles paid $70.80. God bless her soul. Chanda got back $13.60.

It wasn’t until later that I found out that TALE OF EKATA had finished fourth. And wouldn’t you know it, DENIS OF CORK was the one who finished third, two lengths in front of him. The trifecta paid almost $3500, and the superfecta paid $48,737.80.

What the hell?