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Entries in Matt Stull (2)


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.


Best Event Still Ahead In Great Stretch Of Sports

Kentucky Derby

Derby Tops NCAAs, Opening Day, Masters

One Great Season

I may get an argument from all of you football fanatics, but this is the best time of the year for sports. In fact, last week I was in sports heaven. Just as an all-around great NCAA basketball tournament was wrapping up, baseball was ready for Opening Day.

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I was all smiles when my favorite pudgy player, Yadier Molina, hit a grand slam to send my St. Louis Cardinals to a season-opening victory and send Reds fans home with nothing but Skyline Chili-induced indigestion.

From there it was on to the Masters. Who didn’t love a leaderboard full of great stories like Fred Couples and Tom Watson? And it all wrapped up Sunday with family man Phil Mickelson sending Tiger home to his text messages.

But my favorite spring sports event is still two weeks away and here's the kicker: I have no idea who I will be cheering for, and hardly any idea who will be participating.

I'll admit that I'm biased in my love for the Kentucky Derby. Since I have lived my entire life inside the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I know full well that the Derby is America's longest-running continuously contested sporting event. The Belmont Stakes is older, but they skipped a few years for war or some other weak excuse.

Plenty of things make the Derby unique -- and I'm sure you'll see many of them on this Web site over the next few days -- but here's my favorite: most of the 140,000 people who will enter Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May will walk in without any idea which horse they'll be rooting for (read: betting on) around 6 o'clock that evening.

Lots of things conspire to make that happen. First, no horse can run twice in the Derby, since the race is only for 3-year-old colts and fillies. So you don't have that Dale Earnhardt story where a horse has won everything except the big one. You don't have the John Elway story where an aging legend comes back one more time to try and take a title. And you don't see many Cubs fans at Churchill, because there’s no such thing as next year in horse racing.

Here's another problem: even in arguably the biggest horse racing town in the world, Derby horses aren't on most people’s minds until a few days before the race. In fact, the actual field for the race isn't set until the Wednesday before. Imagine the Super Bowl with only three days of hype.

The result of all of this is one of the Derby's most endearing qualities. You don't really hurt after the race, no matter who you were rooting for. That is, unless you bet your paycheck on said horse. If that's the case, you'd better reach for one of those $9 mint juleps they sell at the track.

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