Ah, heck, let’s for a second - revel in the fact that this year, ex-NFL-stars like the likes of Shannon Sharpe, Thurman Thomas, and Warren Moon will attend, while we, during the two plus hours of pre-race TV coverage, can marvel at those wearing ostentatious hats knowing if those footballers sit behind those pretty people – even their views will be blocked.
Back to the big picture. Should we deride Asmussen’s defense? The silvery-grey haired Texan can counter his NY troubles saying that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission found him scot-free of its rule contraventions, so (maybe his words when no one is around to listen) screw you - the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - for not only lodging your complaints to both American States, but for your professed desire to nix the Kentucky Derby, the most exciting two minutes in sports along with your ultimate goal to can and ban, the Sport of Kings, the world of horse-racing completely.
So, should the Derby be sent to the glue factory, or should we, if not adore, at least accept Asmussen, the 50 year-old trainer, for his latest equine of excellence, the three-year-old colt, Gun Runner?
We’re talking a horsey, mixed feed bag here. Steve administered, directly or indirectly, medical stimulants to thoroughbreds, but his aforementioned sentence of $10 thou was, and is, nothing compared to his career earnings (2015) of $216,714,081...
PETA and Asmussen – are not easy to like, separate or together – so let’s treat the 2016 Churchill Downs’ horses as innocents, wonderful looking innocents in this speed spectacle.
Gun Runner has amassed the most points on the way to the Derby at 151. He won the Risen Star Stakes and is said to have had good light-workouts at the May 7th track so much so that Asmussen describes him as “...a very nice horse...”
Asmussen and his boy are ready and the UNBEATEN, in seven starts, favorite of favorites, Nyquist (named after Gustav Nyquist, the Detroit Red Wing Right Winger) and polled via the Courier-Journal Derby HQ as number one by voters, is most definitely chomping at the bit. Are we?
First things first. Nobody understands horses. In the movie, Secretariat, trainer Lucien Laurin admitted he couldn’t get inside their heads. Experts use terms like:
Good work, a well handled work, a promising track maintenance work out, a long shot, short shot, a good break, into the early mix, bearing out or in...
So, phew, given that the pointy heads know no more than me and you, this thereby allows us fence sitters and rail birds to sit back and enjoy the extravaganza, knowing our own ill-informed biases and nonsensical views could very well be proven correct!
But we all understand that, just last year, American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown and this year the general admission stipend(s) starting at $3 per, will admit many, most, OK - all - who will wonder – can Gun Runner, Nyquist, or Mohaymen (another favorite) win this first leg and go on to repeat the Triple Crown Feat in consecutive years? It was done by Seattle Slew in ’77 and Affirmed in ’78. Remember, too, this could have easily been a triple consecutive year for a Triple Crown winner for in 2014, California Chrome lost the last leg, the third race, the Belmont Stakes.
Second things second. Admittedly, a large portion of us will have never heard of Asmussen, let alone of his specific crimes or the general industry problems of mistreatment of thoroughbreds in the quest to be the best, what with our being up to our eye balls in betting parlays for the Kentucky Derby where we are sure we have cornered the market and squared the circle on “facts and figures” based on a heady brew of hyperbole, mysticism, cynicism, blind faith, or blind luck – or a combination in whole or in part – of these evidenced based handicapping “methods.”
And that’s how it will be for many. This race is supposed to be fun for the casual, once-a-year tune-in viewer.
Yet, for those that wear their hearts on their sleeves, or for those that wear the lampshade over their heads thanks to imbibing Kentucky bourbons while amping up for the 142nd Run for the Roses, the problem of folks such as Asmussen in the handling of their mounts, will grate.
Many say the sport is cruel what with jockeys whipping the animals, and when one considers the bodies of three-year olds are still developing, the whole premise of performance is built on shaky foundations.
Morphine is used to ameliorate pain. Steroids (PED’s) such as Winstrol are legal in some states, forbidden in others. Not surprisingly, Kentucky has been one of the more permissive states when it comes to drugs and equines. Doping expert Dr. Don Catlin thinks doping has been a problem in horse racing upwards of three decades. Industry stakeholders, represented by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, want consistent rules across the USA, believing the racing public, not to mention the horses’, interests are damaged when a quilt of regulations makes the whole industry a mug’s game.
So this year’s Kentucky Derby will be fraught with controversy. Fortunately, however, brilliant demonstrations such as “Thunder Over Louisville” the fireworks and air show nonpareil – and the Pegasus Parade, will have everybody on board knowing that there is so much more to the Kentucky Derby than the running of horses.
Now let’s get ready, seated as we are in the best-spot, the Turf Club, for the bugle call - antsy about the post positions, wrangy at the slamming starting-gate opening, and slap happy at the mad, final dash to the wire - no matter who wins.