Walking along to Churchill Downs after parking the car a mile away on Kentucky Derby day offers people-watching at its finest.  You can see college-age revelers dancing and partying near a bus in a parking lot and then encounter street preachers loudly proclaiming hell and brimstone.  Nearby is a fellow hawking t-shirts etched with profanity and a guy illegally selling beer out of a cooler.  The fashion one sees runs the gamut from shabby to chic.  Some of the outfits are surely tailor-made, as it would be next to impossible to buy them off the rack.  The closest sports event to the Kentucky Derby in terms of seeing colorful people and unique clothing is a world title fight in Las Vegas.

The crowd at the Kentucky Derby is, with some exceptions, well behaved, in spite of the availability of alcohol-laden drinks.  In comparison to the language and fan conduct at NFL games, the Kentucky Derby is tame.

Speaking of the NFL, all three of the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots quarterbacks were in attendance at the Derby.  For a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan like myself, it would nice if we could trade for the second or third string QB behind Tom Brady.  (We fortunately have the CAVS and Indians to root for.)  A former Browns player, Robert Jackson, is a partner (via the West Point Thoroughbred syndicate) in Derby winner Always Dreaming.  Two other Clevelanders are also partners, including Tom Wilson, who sold two Cleveland radio stations for $200 million and currently owns another station in town.

The Derby’s winning jockey John Velazquez is the all-time leader in earnings by a rider.  The Hall of Famer is married to Leona O’Brien, daughter of trainer Leo O’Brien.  The horse most associated with O’Brien’s career is Fourstardave, who has a race named after him at Saratoga Race Course.  Velazquez’ mentor and agent is Derby-winning jockey Angel Cordero.  Velazquez is an articulate leader in issues having to do with jockey safety and care for injured riders.

Trainer Todd Pletcher handled with aplomb the inevitable question that an NBC-TV reporter asked him after the race about his low winning percentage in the Derby.  Another classy act was the post-Derby statement Godolphin issued about the health of Thunder Snow, who was pulled up shortly out of the starting gate owing to his bucking like a rodeo horse.  Godolphin let concerned people know that the horse was not injured and wished the winner and his connections well.

The Derby telecast had an overnight rating of 10.5, an improvement of 12% over 2016, and the second highest rating in 25 years.  The on-track crowd was, as usual, enormous despite the rain and the betting was brisk.  For the first time ever, the Derby card topped $200 million ($207.5) and the Derby itself drew wagers totaling $137.8 million.

In 2016, an artificial intelligence algorithm from a company called Unanimous A. I. correctly picked the Derby superfecta.  This year, the same AI program had the order of finish as Classic Empire, McCacken, Irish War Cry, and Always Dreaming.  The company issued a statement calling the race “flat and unpredictable.”  Sounds like the current stock market.

The 2017 Kentucky Derby was another glorious day of Americana.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business