Lighthall: I Still Love the Kentucky Derby

Jim Lighthall

For sports fans, the Kentucky Derby used to be appointment television. But over the years, fewer and fewer people seem to care about the quest for a Triple Crown. Maybe it’s because there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since 1978. Maybe it’s because horse racing is a sport for millionaires, using thoroughbreds as poker chips in the buy low, sell high high-risk game of breeding. Or maybe it’s because owners and trainers are more concerned with protecting their four-legged investment than winning horseracing’s ultimate prize.

I don’t miss the Kentucky Derby. No matter what. To me, it’s one of the greatest spectacles in sports. In addition to 140 years of pageantry and tradition, I still get goose bumps when I hear the “Call to the Post” from Steve Buttleman’s bugle at Churchill Downs. It’s just 33 notes. But that’s all it takes to get 164,000 people to stop dead in their tracks.

I used to make my kids watch the Kentucky Derby every year. I used to have to pry them away from their Saturday routine to join me. Now they remind me. Now they wouldn’t miss it for the world. They don’t want to miss history.

They say the Kentucky Derby is “the greatest two minutes in sports.” They’ll get no argument from me. I’ll rank it right up there with when a hockey team pulls its goalie and the men’s 100-meter finals in the Olympics. All three keep me on the edge of my seat every single time.

I don’t know a whole lot about horse racing. I don’t know how California Chrome runs in the mud or on synthetic turf or from the rail or at a mile-and-a-half. All I know is that it’s the only horse that can win the Triple Crown this year. Which means I’ll be glued to the TV for the Preakness and the Belmont. Maybe I’m setting myself up to be disappointed, just like I have been the last 12 times a horse won the first two legs only to fail at the Belmont. But here’s the beauty of it … maybe I’m not.

I’ve seen three Triple Crown winners in my lifetime: Secretariat in ’73, Seattle Slew in ’77 and Affirmed in ’78. Will California Chrome be the first horse in 35 years to do it? If so, I want to be sitting right next to my children when they see their first.

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