Fear, Loathing, and Surprise at the Kentucky Derby

NBC coverage begins today at 2:30PM with the race slated for 6:57PM. Last year Medina Spirit made 1.86 million dollars for a two minute race, eclipsing what Stormy Daniels was paid for what was presumably a somewhat longer ride on Donald Trump.. The win was negated by the drug test Medina Spirit failed after the derby. Just as abruptly as the horse had reached the top of the sport, the feisty colt collapsed during a workout at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

This type of Shakespearean drama is rare at the Derby. The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, Hunter Thompson wrote in a June 1970 artcle. This year’s spectacle featured a limited number of $1000 mint juleps in a signature that sold out well before race time. To be drunk no doubt by women in $10,000 hats saying “if the peasants have no food let them eat cake.” I can’t match Hunter’s style so I’ll leave you to read his article.


The article is long but you have almost four and a half-hour to kill before the race. According to Wikipedia Hunter rose to prominence with the publication in 1967 of Hell’s Angels, a book he wrote while spending a year riding with motorcycle gang. The article on the derby is next in the narrative followed by his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I read the book as an undergrad. Based on what occurred in the book I am surprised he made it to age 68. The book is a surreal descent into drug abuse. Read the book, don’t see the 1998 movie starring Johnny Depp. It is almost as dreadful as the made for TV trial co-starring Amber Heard, a film noir version of the old show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

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Saturday night after watching most of the news on CBS I switched over to watch the running of the Derby. Running a horse in the Derby is the dream of everyone who races horses. I remember my dentist in Ithaca have a horse in the race one year. I fell 50 yards out of the gate, broke its leg, and had to euthanized.

The owners of Rich Strike had a much happier experience. The colt wasn’t even in the field until Friday, when he drew into the race after another horse was scratched. Wearing #21 it started in the 20th chute far away from the rail, he carried 80:1 odds but he came from behind to pull off one of the biggest shocks in Derby history.

A poetic writer in the New York Times seemed to follow Moses’ path through the Red Sea to a three-quarter length victory. In more prosaic terms his first step to victory was to get from the extreme edge to the middle of the pack. Then at about the ¾ mark in the race he moved through the pack to a commanding lead. However in the modern era I don’t need words you can see it for yourself


The horse moved so fast and was so agitated after the finish, trying to bite the horse of the rider who was trying to guide him to the winner’s area, I thought for a moment that this would be a situation where the horse got his speed from a syringe but there hasn’t been anything on the news so I assume that this time the horse passed his drug test.

The owner who bought the horse for $30,000 was charming in his excitement: “What planet is this?” Dawson said. “I feel like I have been propelled somewhere. I’m not sure. This is unbelievable. I asked my trainer up on the stage, I said, ‘Are you sure this is not a dream? Because it can’t be true.’ He assured me this is real. I said OK.”

So there can be feel good stories at the Derby and not only for the owners. Rich Strike paid $163.60 to win on a $2 bet. The 21-3 exacta paid $4101.20 on a $2 bet; the 21-3-10 Trifecta $14,870.70 on a $1 bet, and the Superfecta 21-3-10-13 $321,500.10 on a 1 bet so even  if you would have bet on all P(20,4) = 116,280 possibilities you would have won big.


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