I just realized that today is April 3rd -- time to start counting the days until that moment when cars mean absolutely nothing. On May 3rd, the first Saturday in May, I will make myself a mint julep, park in front of the television, and take in the Kentucky Derby. (So far I'm rooting for Pyro, which means he probably won't win.)
Yes, I'm a horse racing fanatic. I don't bet much, if at all; I just love to watch them run. And this year marks 35 years since I saw one who turned out to be the greatest of them all. It was on television, mind you -- try as I might, I've never been able to get tickets for the Derby, and while packages are available you need to mortgage your house to buy one -- but I've never forgotten it. Through the magic of the mail, I have every Derby program from 1971, including one for May 5, 1973.
The Derby is the first of three races that make up the illustrious Triple Crown, along with the Preakness and Belmont. Only eleven horses have won all three since 1919, the last in 1978. By 1973, racing fans had gone 25 years without a Triple Crown winner, but it looked like one horse had a chance. His name was Secretariat, and although he was an American horse, his trainer was from Quebec and his jockey was from New Brunswick.
Well, he won the Derby by two and a half lengths, and his record time of 1:59-2/5 still stands. On May 19 he went to Baltimore for the Preakness, and in the first turn, he surged from last place to the lead, which he held right to the finish. He'd have set the official speed record for that race too, if the teletimer hadn't malfunctioned.
So in June it was off to New York for the Belmont, but Secretariat had his critics. His breeding indicated speed at shorter distances, and at a mile and a half, the Belmont was one of the longest races in America. He wasn't undefeated; he'd lost three races prior to the Derby (one by disqualification). And it's a tough campaign: most horses who win the first two lose the third. Not everyone was convinced, although I sure had faith in him. But even among those who believed in his ability, nobody -- nobody -- expected what ultimately happened.
Well, that day, he cemented his place in history. You can talk about your overtime goals, your triple plays and your checkered flags until you're blue in the face. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the greatest moment ever in professional sports.