My Kingdom For A Hunch

Yes, I know this is probably going to be the one day in a year where this space is turned over to horse racing.  In my case, that’s actually a strike against me, since I was raised to appreciate the finer aspects of the sport of kings, or at least know my way around a racing form.

As I’ve shared in this space previously, my grandfather loved the ponies, and with the advent of Off-Track Betting in New York City in the 70s it provided him a lane to teach me how to place a bet at the shop that opened up down the block from him.  And yes, I was fascinated by the closed circuit television of the races that aired on those “massive” 19 inch sets hanging from the ceiling.  Maybe not quite as engaged as Cosmo Kramer was years later, but I also didn’t have as much of my own money riding on the results.

But I kinda wish my poppy had lived to see what was available to him now.  He’d no longer need me to walk to a storefront to place a bet or even need to take a stroll himself to catch the results.  All of that, of course, is available on a phone, and with enough resolution that even his failing eyesight would have been able to take it all in.

And to grandfathers and even young ‘uns who are around today in states where online wagering is legal, his options would be far greater than merely win, place and show.  As BETTING NEWS’ Chris Adams instructed in a piece that dropped yesterday:

Local race tracks and OTB parlors are confined to pools included in the pari-mutuel betting menu. Not to worry, horseplayers have other options. Online wagering platforms like BetOnline offer some unique fixed odds markets for the first Saturday in May.

BetOnline is offering a number of head to head bets. These props require players to pick which horse will finish in a better position. The simplest form of theses wagers include just two horses, but the site also offers three headed matchups where the selection must beat the other 2 listed entries.

Players can (also) attack a number of bets on outcomes in the race. Here’s a look at a few options for those tuning in.

Gate to Wire Winner: No (-700) vs. Yes (+475)

Number of Words in the Winner’s Name: Two (-145) vs. One (+160) vs. Three or More (+1000)

Winning Distance: Over (-125) Under (-105) 1.5 Lengths

Winning Time: Over (+129) Under (-165) Two Minutes and Two Seconds

Yep, Gramps would have loved it.  Mom, too.  She reveled in these kind of prop bets for many a Super Bowl, even the ones that she had no idea who the teams were that were playing in them.

And the Derby is still indeed relevant enough to warrant the kind of special attention.  As SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s veteran scribe Pat Forde observed in a piece that dropped yesterday:

The 150th Kentucky Derby will be run Saturday, the longest continuously contested sporting event in the United States. The race predates the automobile and the airplane, radio and television, Edison’s light bulb and Einstein’s relativity. It is the anchor of American sporting longevity.  Wars, contagions and economic calamities have not unmoored it. World War II necessitated moving the 1945 edition to June, but the race was run. The COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t cause a cancellation, though it did present such a threat that the 2020 race was pushed into September. Evolving societal tastes, concerns about equine safety, a million other things to do—none have interrupted an event that began with Ulysses S. Grant in office, one decade after Robert E. Lee surrendered to him at Appomattox Court House.  There were 37 states in the union at the time of the first running. The Rose Bowl, which began in 1901, is called the Granddaddy of Them All—but the Derby could be the Granddaddy’s daddy.

From 1877 winner Baden-Baden to Joe Biden, the Derby abides. From 1899 winner Manuel to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Derby endures. From 1958 winner Tim Tam to TikTok, the Derby prevails. 

In a world of unsettlingly swift change, the sameness of the Kentucky Derby is a powerful force. The traditions are immovable.

Sure, how and where it’s being covered has evolved.  As Forde notes, the first Run for the Roses was a downright afterthought:

The dominant news of the day in Kentucky on May 17, 1875, was the death of John C. Breckinridge, a U.S. Congressman turned Confederate Civil War general. Breckinridge died at the age of 54 at his home in Lexington, Ky., a divisive historical figure. His obituary filled several columns in the next day’s The Courier-Journal newspaper.

On page 4 of that Courier-Journal, a relatively modest headline read, “Derby Day.” The accompanying story chronicled the Kentucky Derby victory by the colt Aristides, in what the paper termed “a brilliant inauguration of the Louisville Jockey Club Association.” The founder of the association was Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of William Clark, one of the principals in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 

The Courier-Journal is barely around these days, but Churchill Downs, fresh off a recent renovation and modernization, still endures.  And yes, if you’re at the track, you can still place two bucks on a win, place or show the way those who wore their finery and sipped mint juleps then did, and more than 150,000 will likely be doing tomorrow.

But if you’re not, you can have the beverage of your choice, flip on your 75″ monitor or open up a browser and enjoy the strains of MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME and two of the most exciting minutes in sports in any year, in any century.

I know I’ll be doing that.  Again.  And wondering what my grandfather would have told me to bet.



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