King of sports
I sometimes think there really is only one natural sport: racing, in all its many guises, whether it's horses, humans, sailboats, or various motorized and non-motorized conveyances on land, sea, or air.
If you haven't ever seen this, prepare to be...thrilled. There's really no other word for it.
Sport of kings
And speaking of racing, you know what's coming up, and you knew I'd be talking about it: on May 5th, twenty of the top three-year-olds will converge on Churchill Downs for the best two minutes of the year, the most famous horse race in America (NBC, 5–7 p.m.). Here are three of the colts to watch:
A rare near-white racehorse (technically a roan or a gray), Hansen has grabbed the public's attention by virtue of his striking appearance. His lustre's been dulled a bit by his second-place finish at the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland (my uncle's old stomping grounds) in Lexington. He was bred by his owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen, a pain specialist from Kentucky who named the horse for himself. Hansen human and Hansen horse have been having the time of their lives since The Great Gray Hope won the Breeder's Cup Juvenile last fall.
Undefeated Gemologist, an elegant dark bay (a bay is brown with a black mane and tail), won the prestigious Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by a neck, fighting off Alpha at the wire. It was his narrowest winning margin. Gemologist is an aware colt who looks around and responds to what's happening. Watch for him watching the other horses. Gemologist is a descendant of the legendary Man o' War.
Union Rags, currently the favorite since Hansen was dethroned from the top spot, is line-bred from Northern Dancer—line-bred meaning that he's descended from the great Canadian sire on both sides. Owner Phyllis Wyeth of Chadds Ford Stable, an advocate for those like herself who are disabled, belongs to the famous Wyeth family of American artists.
Others to watch: Dullahan, who beat Hansen in the Blue Grass Stakes; Bodemeister, named for his Hall of Fame trainer's Bob Baffert's son Bode; Daddy Nose Best, from the first crop of Scat Daddy; and the European horse Creative Cause, trained by third-generation trainer Mike Harrington. And let's not forget Alpha and Daddy Long Legs, half brother of Daddy Nose Best.
Bear in mind I don't really know anything about horse racing.. If I can get hold of my uncle Smokie Polk in time, I'll see if we can get an insider's pick (Smokie, known outside the family as Al, bred the Belmont winner Temperance Hill and is a past President of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeder's Association). My pick right now (did I mention I know nothing?) is Gemologist.
Union Rags' jockey Julien Leparoux, who grew up around racing in Chantilly, France, recently tied a 22-year-old record at Keeneland by winning six races in one day. The feat hadn't been accomplished there since 1990. Calvin Borel, the jockey who won aboard Mine That Bird in the great race of 2009 and then went on to take the Preakness that same year aboard the beautiful filly Rachel Alexandra, this year will take charge of Take Charge Indy, who won the Florida Derby in March.
Mark down Derby Day on your calendar. And don't miss that motorcycle race....
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by A. Dias: "Rossi vs. Lorenzo—simply epic!"
Featured Comment by Roy: "I remember this race well. It's a great pity that Rossi decided to try to achieve the nearly impossibly feat of getting Ducati back into contention for the MotoGp championship. Rossi has won nine world championships whilst missing no races through injury until he broke his leg in 2009. This in a sport where some riders spend more time in hospital than on a bike. At the present time Valentino Rossi and formerly Giacomo Agostini are in a different league to every other motorbike racer in the sport's history.
"If you want to see some plain impossible riding, watch Casey Stoner wrestling with the vicious 2007 Ducati on which he won the championship. An almost un-rideable beast that Nicky Hayden—a former world champion himself—could barely drag into the points.
"Occasionally some of the races are dull, but on balance MotoGp is consistently exciting. I'd be a happy man to be able to ride 50% as well as even the 'slowest' of those guys.
"But the TT—that's something else. Look out for a YouTube lap of the Isle of Man on one of the Senior TT bikes. Tiny rural roads with the average speed now of >130mph. Very few years pass without at least one rider killed during this event. A British rider, Ian Hutchinson, managed to win all five classes in the 2010 TT: no one had ever managed this before. It went largely un-noticed in the general sports press.
"This season's F1 ain't bad either, is it?"
Mike replies: Speaking of F1, I'd like to recommend (or re-recommend?) a great F1 movie, Senna. It was recommended to me by a TOP reader. I admit I don't watch a lot of movies, but this is one of the best movies I've seen—really terrific, gripping and ultimately very moving. I really enjoyed and appreciated it.
Here's a portrait of French jockey Julien Leparoux, who is scheduled to ride the favorite Union Rags in the Derby. The portrait is by a TOP reader who prefers to remain uncredited, who says, "Julien is an all around great guy." It was taken in Florida in 2009.