My Kentucky Derby XXV

Somehow this will be the 25th Kentucky Derby I get to cover. For a horse-crazed Louisville native who never thought he’d get to cover one, this milestone is unimaginable. In honor of the occasion, a few memories.

Favorite owner (same name division): My name will be in this year’s Derby program as also-eligible entrant Blended Citizen is co-owned by Greg Hall, which makes me the other Greg Hall. It’s not me, but it is cool. We all can dream.

Favorite owner (non-same name division): Robert and Beverly Lewis. The Lewises exuded class, greeting all reporters as if they were old friends. And Bob produced one of the best Derby quotes ever: saying after Silver Charm’s 1997 win that he wanted on his tombstone, “Loving husband, adoring father and winner of the 123rd Kentucky Derby.” He amended the request after Charismatic won in 1999.

Most impressive winner (looks): Fusaichi Pegasus. The 2000 winner made an impression as the most dappled and muscular horse I’d seen.

Favorite winner: Street Sense. When Street Sense finished third in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland Race Course in 2006, Calvin Borel was animated talking to trainer Carl Nafzger in the tunnel after the race. I couldn’t hear much, but what I could hear and what I saw made it appear that Borel had figured the horse out. So I bet him when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and, later, when he became the first winner of that race to win the Derby in 2007. That Triple Crown campaign stands the test of time as one of the best 3-year-old crops in modern times (and, off-the-top-of-my-head, the best of this 25-year period).

Best pick: Monarchos.

Worst betting move: Being the journalist who didn’t use Invisible Ink in exactas with the Monarchos. In the year where the betting interests expanded to 20 and Churchill officials called it a chance for the little guy to hit a home run, I came to the realization that I had the pitch and fouled it off.

Worst pick: Bandini. He washed out on the way into the paddock. Usually I don’t know I’m beat until the race starts. Bandini lost before he got to the paddock.

Best betting move: I loved Nehro and one other horse, so I keyed them in exactas with every horse anyone liked. I wasn’t an Animal Kingdom fan, but people I respected were. I  added AK to the ticket and backed into a nice exacta.

Luckiest betting move: Loved Editor’s Note who was coupled with Grindstone. Loved Semoran, who was coupled with Cavonnier. Used Prince of Thieves. Dumb luck, the stablemates and the prince got me a $300 trifecta (for a $1).

Worst writing move: While at The Cincinnati Enquirer, I asked colleagues to give me the sounds of Derby Day in 1998. They did, and then I whiffed on the obvious lead when a horse named Real Quiet won.

Closest finish: Grindstone. The suspense was palpable on the third-floor clubhouse as everyone waited for what seemed to be forever for the determination that Grindstone beat Cavonnier.

Most inexplicable outcome: Giacomo. I know the odds say Mine That Bird, but he at least ran respectably throughout the Triple Crown leading to a belief that he peaked at the right time. But Giacomo? The 2005 pace scenario set up an impossible outcome. A well-known reporter emphatically flipped through his program to see who had won. I won’t repeat the adjectives interspersed in “Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby.”

Favorite walkover moment: Also 1998. The only time the horses and horsemen were upstaged was when actor Jack Nicholsonmade the walkover, prompting calls of “Jack” from the crown. Nicholson obliged, smiling a Jack smile and flashing his hands. And then he had to talk his way into the paddock.

Favorite moment: It’s not the Derby. Rachel Alexandra‘s domination in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks is something that was jaw dropping. I remember thinking that this must be what folks at Belmont Park felt like in 1973 when they watched Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes. Of course, Rachel went on to beat the boys in the Preakness Stakes.

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