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Posted Wednesday, April 28, 2004
by Bill Hogan


The field is full for the 130th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Twenty finely tuned thoroughbreds will be saddled and mounted by some of the world's best riders. After the ceremonial Post Parade, they will take their assigned places in the starting gate and they're off.

There's a chance of rain this weekend at Churchill Downs. The track may be muddy, the sky may be gray, but the atmosphere will be bright, enthusiastic and festive. Women will be prancing around the clubhouse sporting gaudy hats. Men will be sipping good old Kentucky bourbon.


Most of the crowd will sing along when the band plays "My Old Kentucky Home," others will use that time to improve their viewing position. And everyone in attendance will voice their opinion regarding the outcome of horse racing's crown jewel; even in a year where there seems to be no clear favorite.

Among the myriad of Derby hopefuls stand Pollard's Vision, with jockey John Valazquez at the helm, and Limehouse, with Jose Santos aboard. The so-called experts don't give either horse a realistic chance of winning. But their odds of capturing the coveted "blanket of roses" will further diminish if they gallop up to the starting gate with no rider.

Valazquez and Santos recently have threatened to boycott the Kentucky Derby if they come up on the losing end of a lawsuit now pending in federal court. The suit challenges a Kentucky state law that bars jockeys from wearing advertisements.

The riders feel they should have the opportunity to put promotional material on their uniforms. Some of the more popular jockeys have been offered thousands of dollars for ad space on their Kentucky Derby outfits.

The early odds on Pollard's Vision and Limehouse are 20-1 and 30-1 respectively. The odds that Valazquez and Santos don't post for the 130th "Run for the Roses," regardless of the judge's decision, are a million to one. Or more. That is, if you can find someone to take the action.

These guys aren't going to give up the opportunity to ride in the Kentucky Derby simply because they are not allowed to sew a Budweiser patch to their butt. Though, I don't really see the harm. When the horses make the final turn and head down the home stretch, nobody's looking at the jockey's derriere anyway.

Why shouldn't jockeys have the opportunity to get on board the big budget advertising gravy train? They work for themselves and only make any real money if they win. Just like golfers, tennis players and NASCAR drivers. All of whom cover themselves and their equipment with product endorsements.

Jockeys go through life standing five-foot nothing and 112 pounds. That's rough enough. They should be able to make a little something extra on the side. They have to wear those tacky pink and green silks, who's to say that the same shirt can't be made out of a giant Mountain Dew logo?

A muddy track is the perfect venue to promote an industrial strength bar of soap or a dependable deodorant. "Do you spend all day on a sweaty horse like I do? You need Old Spice." Riding a half-ton horse at 30-miles an hour is no time to lose a contact lens. Get laser eye surgery today. The possibilities are endless. Of course, ad space is limited.

They take their horse racing very seriously in Kentucky. So much so that listed among Sports Illustrated's 50 Greatest Kentucky Sports Figures are two of horse racing's legends – Man O' War and the 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation. Don't expect to see an "Eat at Joe's" ad on a rider's backside any time soon.

The odds makers list The Cliff's Edge as the favorite in this year's Kentucky Derby at 4-1 followed by Smarty Jones at 9-2 and Tapit at 8-1. Then again, there are many who will tell you the field is wide open.

I'm going to buy into that "field is wide open" theory and go with a long shot. A real long shot. Right now, the longest shot in the field is Birdstone at 50-1. That'll get me about $100 for my two dollar wager. Never happen, you say?

In the 1913 Derby, Donerail went off at about 90-1, covered the mile and a quarter course in 2:04.8 and won the race by half a length. The payout was the highest in the history of the Kentucky Derby at $184.90. Never say never.


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