Spring fever with a shot of bourbon causes dreams of glory and the pursuit of legends. Trying to obtain something fleeting yet infinite. Two minutes to catch fire, to shape it, to make it your own. The Kentucky Derby is a wild, and sometimes cruel beast that has attracted the rich and the poor alike. The poor watching with their television eyes, as the rich enter a dirt-lined ring sometimes referred to as the, “Sport of Kings.” A quest that New Orleans’ own Saints owners Gayle and Tom Benson travelled this weekend, and like so many others, walked away from without victory, but with a humble respect.
Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready were the challengers that represented the Benson’s horse racing outfit, G.M.B Racing, in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. Tom’s Ready, with a non-flashy but steady career, and Mo Tom, with the late big kick but troubled spring, stood beside 18 other horses – who all had owners and trainers with the same dreams, who fought through the same battles to be here, with one shot at the biggest prize in all of horse racing.
And they’re off.
It’s always an amazing sight to watch a 20-horse field enter the first turn at Churchill Downs. It worries you. It makes you think of war. That is just too many horses. Each individual horse's running style determines what he or she will do in this crush of horseflesh. Some immediately fall back, and let the pack sort itself out with plans on making later moves as the field lines up in the back stretch. This was Mo Tom’s plan. As he laid off the pace and was well behind the leaders by 15 lengths, and, at one point, right along side Louisianan’s Keith and Kent Desormeaux’s Exaggerator towards the back of the pack. On the other hand, it was the quiet Tom’s Ready who stuck his nose in the front of the pack going around the first turn and throughout the backstretch, and was running with the undefeated Nyquist, and Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner. The front of the pack clicked off solid fractions, but Tom’s Ready held his ground, placed fourth heading into the top of the homestretch.
Further back, Exaggerator – a closer like Mo Tom – kicked into another gear and started picking off everyone in front of him. Mo Tom also made a move, but didn’t have the gas like Exaggerator and was left behind. As Nyquist stuck his head out front by two lengths over Gun Runner, the only question left to answer was if Exaggerator had enough time to catch the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion. Exaggerator made it interesting but could never get within a length of Nyquist.
Mo Tom would catch his stablemate, Tom’s Ready, in the homestretch. It looked like the front running pace got to Tom’s Ready as he hit that invisible wall at the top of the stretch and watched his derby dreams run away from him.
A lot of prognosticators came into Saturday saying the field was wide open, and doubting Nyquist’s chances. I think that may have something to do with last year’s Triple Crown champion, American Pharoah. One, the country fell in love with the horse that broke the 37-year-old Triple Crown curse. And, since it took almost four decades for the sport to see another Triple Crown champion, surely it couldn’t happen back-to-back, right? Right?
Time will tell. As in the next five weeks will tell. In two weeks Nyquist will race at Pimlico in the Preakness Stakes, against some new rivals and some old ones as well. Exaggerator and Gun Runner will be there to take another shot at Nyquist at a shorter distance with a smaller field. If all goes well in Baltimore, Nyquist will enter the Belmont Stakes undefeated in nine races, and in front of 120,000 fans – all of whom will tell you that they’ve been Nyquist fans since the day he was born – the young 3-year-old will try to ascend to the greatest of heights in all of sports.
The Triple Crown.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Bourbon Pairing: Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Playlist Recommendation: Chris Stapleton – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Around the Way
The Green Wave are hot. Tulane (31-14) has gone 9-1 in their past 10 games to take over first place in the American Athletic conference, a half-game ahead of the East Carolina Pirates (30-16-1). Tulane swept the South Florida Bulls on Sunday, behind another stellar performance by Freshman of the Year candidate, Ross Massey.
Tulane and ECU both have six conference games left, and, out of the pair, the Pirates have an easier schedule. I’m sure the AAC thought they were going to get a conference-deciding tilt when they scheduled Tulane and Houston (27-19) for the last weekend, but, at this point, with the Cougars floundering at 8-9 in the conference, it has taken on a possible spoiler scenario. But, first things first, Tulane will play Memphis this coming weekend at Turchin Stadium.
It’s a non-conference affair tonight, but one with a lot of emotion, as the New Orleans Privateers (28-18) travel across town to take on the Green Wave at 6:30 p.m. The Privateers are coming off a series victory over Abilene Christian, and are attempting to sweep the season series with the Green Wave, after handing Tulane a wild 10-9 loss in early March. The Privateers are entering their roughest week of the season, as they take on the Southland-leading Southeastern Louisiana Lions (35-13) in a weekend series, in addition to games against the Green Wave and UL-Lafayette (31-17).
*Final photo from tulanegreenwave.com