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Derby Fever: Is There A Cure?

Kentucky Derby

Another Year,
Another Full Field

One Great Season

To race a horse in the Kentucky Derby, an owner has to write two separate checks. It says right there in the Churchill Downs program that a Derby horse's connections must pay $25,000 to enter the race on the Wednesday prior and then another $25,000 to enter the gate on the first Saturday in May. The reason for the split payments is simple: the toughest part of the Derby Trail is the final few days.

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Hundreds of horses are nominated for the Triple Crown not long after they take their first steps. From there, the list of potentials is whittled down on tracks around the world. Only a select few rise from the ranks of maiden special-weight races to run in so-called Derby preps like the Blue Grass, the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial, among others.

Then the survivors travel to Churchill Downs for their turn in the spotlight ... and that's where it always gets tricky. Just this week, overwhelming Derby favorite Eskendereya was injured and scratched from the race before Louisville residents could even practice butchering the horse's name. There was another scratch on Monday, and Wednesday, the trainers of two more eligible horses passed on entering, including one whose horse was injured during a morning workout.

Add this to everything that can go wrong in the race itself, and you have maybe the most precarious and fragile sporting event in the world. And yet year after year, the Derby has a full field of 20. It makes you wonder if there will ever be a cure for Derby Fever.

Stull is a sports-addicted former television producer who lives in Louisville.

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