ATHLETIC VOICE: May means Kentucky Derby time

By MICHAEL ANDERSON

For 140 years, May has meant the return of America’s greatest horse race: the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby is run on dirt over a distance of 1 1/4 miles and is open to the top 20 three-year-old thoroughbred horses in the world.

The 2014 Derby will be run May 3. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 1 p.m. local time and wagering will be available at several locations around town.

This year’s winning owner will receive about $1.2 million of the $2 million purse, a golden trophy and a horse blanket made of roses. The winning horse has the opportunity to become America’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

To win the Triple Crown, a horse must win the Derby, the Preakness Stakes (1 3/16 miles) at Pimlico in Baltimore two weeks later, and the Belmont Stakes (1 1/2 miles) at Belmont Park, N.Y., three weeks after that.

Sweeping the Triple Crown is exceedingly difficult and has not been accomplished since Affirmed turned the trick in 1978.

Churchill Downs advertises the Derby as “the greatest two minutes in sports.” However the Derby is also a celebration of all things Kentucky.

The four cornerstones of Derby week are horses, fashion, food and mint juleps made with Kentucky bourbon. It’s celebrated everywhere in the state, from backyard barbecues to invitation-only galas.

When the horses arrive on the track to the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” the scene brings tears to the eyes of many of the 100,000 people who attend each Derby.

The crowd always includes politicians, celebrities, drunken college kids and representatives of every societal strata in between.

While the social aspects of Derby Week are not to be ignored, I adore the race itself. Much of its appeal lies in its unpredictability.

Most American horse races are limited to 14 starters, but the Derby allows 20. This guarantees  a rough race in which luck plays a large part.

The main source of unpredictability is the distance. None of the horses involved have ever run more than 1 1/8 miles. The last 1/8 of a mile is grueling and many favorites have faltered in those final strides.

To prepare for this years race, consider watching the film “Secretariat.” The movie’s namesake swept the 1973 Triple Crown and is widely considered one of the greatest racehorses of all-time.

His Derby-winning time of 1:59.40 is still Churchill’s record for the distance and the film sets the Derby scene better than any other.

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