What a Derby! Saturday, May 4th has to go down as one of the great Kentucky Derby experiences of all time. A record -breaking crowd, a relatively unknown thoroughbred with a rookie jockey took the roses, and the weather was fantastic.
The Kentucky Oaks happens the day before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and is a nice warm up for the main event on Saturday. Oaks Day was hampered by weather, as severe thunderstorms popped up all around Louisville, which caused track officials to evacuate the infield and delay the Oaks race. Many worried that, with the forecast looking the same for Saturday, there would be issues surrounding what time the Derby would take place and what the condition of the track would be. Mother Nature cooperated though and gave the record-breaking crowd of over 165,000 people a fantastic day to take in all that Churchill Downs has to offer on the first Saturday in May. And while we are discussing records being broken, overall Kentucky Derby wagering raked in $187 million dollars, making it Churchill Downs’ best Derby take yet.
On the track, there were several high-profile three-year-olds who were attracting a lot of the pre-Derby hype. Breeders’ Cup winner Hansen and his colorful owner, Union Rags, Creative Cause, and the previously unbeaten Gemologist seemed to be the horses that would be battling when the field of 20 came down the stretch. As it were, those pre-race contenders were only bit players in a race that saw a fantastic performance from the second place horse, Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister, and a great closing finish from I’ll Have Another, who is now unbeaten in 2012.
I’ll Have Another is a great story for horse racing. He was purchased for a lowly sum of $11,000 and doesn’t have the prestigious pedigree of some that were considered Triple Crown contenders, but here he is, headed to the Preakness Stakes as a champion. For much of the race, I’ll Have Another was in the lower half of the top ten horses, and it looked as though Bodemeister was going to pull away at the top of the stretch. It was then that I’ll Have Another and his 25-year-old jockey Mario Gutierrez were able to reach back and get a little extra. With others, such as Hansen and Trinniberg, starting to fade, I’ll Have Another surged and closed at just the right time, taking victory away from Bodemeister, who had a fantastic wire-to-wire run. Trainer Doug O’Neill is also a first time Derby winner and now joins an elite group of Triple Crown race winning trainers.
The attention now turns to Maryland and the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. May 19th is the day that I’ll Have Another will once again take to the track and chase the next dream, a Triple Crown title. This time though, he won’t be able to sneak up on the field, as he will likely be one of the favorites, along with Bodemeister, Dullahan, and Creative Cause.