LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The first Sunday in May can be a painful time here in the Derby City -- unless you hit on an exotic wager the day before.
Here in Louisville, we have better perspective than most cities. That's because one day a year, we're reminded that we don't know anything. Unless, of course, the favorite wins -- as he did in Saturday's 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Still, as always, there are winners and losers every year at the Derby. A look at a few of them.
WINNER: California Chrome and all his connections. Everywhere you turn on this story, you feel good. The colt from modest beginnings has been nothing but consistently brilliant. His trainer, 77 years old, is a story so good that you can't get enough of it. And he does it, by all accounts, the right way. The colt's owners stuck to their convictions, appear to have true affection for and pride in their animal, and come from the ranks of regular people. And California breeders have to be standing a little taller these days.
LOSER: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The animal-rights organization made some hay on Oaks Day when Steve Asmussen won the race with his fantastic filly, Untapable, given its recent allegations against him. It didn't get as good a forum, however, on racing's biggest day, which was dominated by the story of the feel-good favorite. This doesn't mean the concerns the organization raises don't merit the highest level of scrutiny and investigation. And of course, the Preakness could give it another shot. But if it was looking for bang for the Kentucky Derby buck, PETA didn't quite get it.
WINNER: Larry Collmus. It's hard to hear a discouraging word about Churchill's new track announcer, who was widely praised after his first week on the job at the track, and even won a bet with NBC's Donna Brothers that he'd have more Twitter followers than her by the end of the Derby. (Honestly, however, there's no excuse for any racing fan not to follow both: @larrycollmus and @donnabrothers.) Collmus was profiled in The New Yorker, has broken cleanly and is away well as the new voice of Churchill Downs.
LOSER: Churchill Downs, public relations division. The track took a barrage of criticism all week for snubs of Triple Crown jockeys Ron Turcotte and Jean Cruget, as well as some criticism from a current owner, Rick Porter. A new system for media credentialing left most outlets without press passes until Thursday, and there was plenty of grumbling about the track's decision to hang onto a higher takeout from the betting public. There's some question as to whether the new sound system might've been distracting to horses, but that seems like a fixable problem, and it definitely improved the fan experience on the grandstand side. The track even took some criticism for not fighting harder to land the Breeders' Cup, but it gets a pass on that here. The Breeders' Cup is a big commitment to ask for from a track. Churchill Downs delivers the event its highest profile and, by far, its largest crowd. It deserves to be paid in proportion to what it provides. Still, for Churchill Downs to face such nagging criticism during Derby week shows a growing frustration with the people skills of its management, and an increased willingness to voice it.
WINNER: Churchill Downs, performance division. In the end, more people liked the new $12 million video board than didn't like it, and everybody in the track got to see the races, which has not always been the case. The first completely dry Derby in seven years helped lead to a combined Oaks-Derby attendance of 277,977, which is a new record, and the grandstand terrace, which was sold as a separate ticket for Oaks and Derby but which will be accessible for much of the rest of the meet, is a fantastic addition. The TV ratings in Louisville were huge, with NBC doing a 70 share during the segment the race was actually run. (National ratings will be out on Monday.) The Derby itself continues to get stronger, even if racing at Churchill overall faces obstacles.
LOSER: University of Louisville basketball player Mangok Mathiang apparently was upset when a friend was arrested on Central Ave. on Friday, and when he wouldn't leave police alone as they tried to complete the arrest, he wound up being arrested himself for failure to disperse and public drinking. Mathiang, who is 21, wasn't charged with public intoxication, so it seems like a safe assumption that he could've avoided this embarrassing episode with two words: Yes, officer. I walked down Central Ave. for a little bit after the Derby, and I have to say, people can be idiots. I know, the nature of these things is for people to turn on the police for going overboard. Police have a lot to deal with on Oaks and Derby days. They don't have time for someone who won't listen to them. A lesson for everybody: Do what they ask.
WINNER: Untapable. In being just a tick under the race record in the Kentucky Oaks, the Steve Asmussen-trained filly posted a Beyer Speed Figure of 107. California Chrome posted just a 97 in winning the Derby. That begs the question -- might the filly meet California Chrome in the Preakness. Not likely, said Asmussen. He said he thinks the filly needs more seasoning, and will keep her out of the second leg of the Triple Crown. Interestingly, the trainer PETA said shows little concern for his horses is making the call to skip a chance at a huge win because he doesn't think his filly is ready to run off a two-week layoff.
LOSER: Calvin Borel. Whether trainer "Bronco" Billy Gowan was unhappy with Borel's ride or with Ride On Curlin's racing luck, he wasn’t' happy after the colt's troubled trip and seventh place finish. Borel made an immediate move to get to the rail from his outside post, but never found a comfortable position and had to make an awkward swing wide to get clear to make a run late. When he got going, Ride On Curlin was impressive, but he spent most of this race unable to get his stride.
WINNER: Dallas Stewart has been Kentucky Derby runner up in back-to-back years, both times with a horse that only made the race after someone else scratched. Stewart says his Commanding Curve looks good and likely is headed to the Preakness.
LOSER: The betting public, which took home a bit less for its winning bets, thanks to Churchill hanging onto 17.5 percent of the wagers off the top, and 22 percent of exotic wagers. Total handle was down for the Oaks, and boycotts by some horseplayers could cost the track money in the long term.
WINNER: The Lexington Herald-Leader, for nailing the Derby headline with "Chrome Run" in its Sunday editions.
WINNER: The Preakness. Horse racing has a story to sell in the Hollywood tale of California Chrome and his connections. We'll see if the story has legs, and if the colt can generate some Triple Crown buzz. On to Pimlico.
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