Reading the next morning about the Kentucky Derby is almost better than seeing the race. From year to year it’s hard to keep a dry eye, as there’s always a story to break your heart, which I suppose is the real truth behind everything in life.
Life is a heartbreaker and the Derby is an annual restorative.
Mike Smith (how’s that for an American name?), this year’s winning jockey came back to ride after breaking his back in a spill at Saratoga in 1998. Not very many come back successfully after that and those who do are apt to flinch in tight spots. Thoroughbred racing is a business of tight spots among thundering hoofs, goggles splattered and face stung with whatever the track throws up. Spills under those circumstances have a way of replaying in your mind and that edge, that seeing the momentary lane and driving through it has no room for ghosts, it’s temerity in spades. Son of a jockey, Mike began riding races in New Mexico at eleven years old, which makes this first Derby victory a salute to twenty-eight years in the saddle. That’s a lot of thunder and a lot of tight spots.
Inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2003, Mike jockeyed the 1994 Derby favorite Holy Bull to a career-disappointment 12th place finish, although he rode the Bull from that ignominious finish to Horse of the Year in 1998. Whaddya know, sports fans, Smith vindicated his ’94 loss this year on Giacomo and Giacomo, is the son of Holy Bull.
That’ll bring tears to a glass eye.
This doesn’t have the feel of a Triple Crown year, with a bunch of high-odds finishers and all the favored horses caving in, but who knows? It’s always a horse race.