Don’t be confused by the headline. There is a shred of sanity here, but just remember we said shred. My loyal readers understand that sometimes I like to compare Thoroughbred racing to more mainstream sports in an attempt to hook the everyday sports fan into this wonderful game. Both realize the parallels are made to do what sports are designed to do…make us happy.
Coming into Kentucky Derby 149 there were a couple of powerful teams running out of the barns of two of the sport’s most brilliant conditioners. Texas-born Todd Pletcher had a Phi Slama Jama lineup that featured the Florida Derby winner (Forte), the Louisiana Derby winner (Kingsbarns), and the Blue Grass Stakes winner (Tapit Trice). Louisville-born Brad Cox featured a Doctors of Dunk arsenal with the Arkansas Derby winner (Angel of Empire), the runner-up from the Wood Memorial (Hit Show) and Blue Grass Stakes (Verifying) along with the ever-improving Gun Runner Stakes winner (Jace’s Road). Loaded was a bit of an understatement when describing these two teams. After these seven, there was just everybody else…or so we thought.
Now let’s talk 1983 NCAA men’s basketball tournament final four. The high-flying Houston Cougars brought in a juggernaut of jumpers that was like no other. Coach Guy Lewis had a group that just simply ran teams out of the gym. Also headed to Albuquerque were the long-jumping Louisville Cardinals. Coach Denny Crum had another group of talented twine ticklers who were fundamentally good and athletically great. These two were paired against each other in the national semifinals, but those other two teams (Georgia, North Carolina State) were just playing for the consolation game anyway…or so we thought.
Now, let’s get down to it. You put the horses in the starting gate and the players on the floor for a reason. The arena of competition decides the outcome, not the speculation or forecasts. That, in fact, is one of the most beautiful things about it all. You can NEVER really know what’s going to happen.
Derby 149 saw Pletcher’s Clyde Drexler (Forte) get scratched due to injury on the morning of the Derby, his Dream ( Tapit Trice) was plagued with a poor start and traffic troubles, while his other rim rattler (Kingsbarns) was burned up on the front end by a torrid early pace. The Brad Cox bunch witnessed one of his in that same fire on the front end (Verifying) while two of his skywalkers had looks at the rim but just couldn’t get into a shooting rhythm (Angel of Empire, Hit Show). His fourth dunking doctor (Jace’s Road) steadily went backward and fouled out with a next-to-last finish.
As the history book tells us, it was North Carolina State that cut the nets down in a big surprise back in 1983. In Derby 149 it was an underdog 15 to 1 shot with no previous Stakes wins that wore the roses. Much like the Wolfpack, Mage put on a magnificent display of gamesmanship in winning the world’s most famous horse race. Using a big kick down the lane to take the lead, this son of Good Magic did his pappy and the Pack of 1983 proud as he felled the “big” boys.
To summarize, they play’em for a reason and fittingly enough this magic show we call the Kentucky Derby continues with a horse named Mage.