$0.02: At the Derby, a rare collision of ecstasy and agony
Short of a horse making a run at the Triple Crown, thoroughbred racing’s annual mainstream relevance has been reduced to that one magical day in May when the sports and social epicenters become one at iconic Churchill Downs in Louisville.So it was that on Saturday, on arguably the grandest stage in American sports not named the Super Bowl, we watched a culture that is already in limbo take a devastating hit. It happened, as gruesome luck would have it, mere moments after a legend-in-the-making animal set fire to a crowd in bad need of a hero.While Big Brown backed up all the pre-Derby talk about his prodigious potential, winning the 1.25-mile race with ease in just over 2 minutes to remain undefeated, his closest pursuer, Eight Belles – the only lady in the field – broke both legs shortly after crossing the finish. She was put to death shortly thereafter, on the very track she’d just blistered.As for Big Brown, he looked like he had quite a bit left in his legs when he flashed across the finish line to become the first horse since 1929 to win from the disadvantageous 20th post position. Based on what I’ve heard about his ability, he’ll probably end up contending for the Triple Crown after all. But anyone who watched Saturday’s Derby won’t remember it as a star horse’s introduction to the world. They’ll remember it for the heart-wrenching tragedy that punctuated Big Brown’s win – an ending that, coming on the heels of Barbaro’s odyssey two years ago, makes you wonder how many more scenes of horror the dwindling cadre of casual racing fans is able to endure. …On a more upbeat topic, Rockies starter Aaron Cook has been THE highlight for otherwise-dismal Colorado this year. The 29-year-old finesse pitcher brought a career high of nine wins into the spring, but he’s already 5-1 with a 2.40 ERA and a .243 opponents’ batting average. Most impressive, he’s allowed only three home runs in 48.2 innings pitched. The Rockies, meanwhile, are 12-19, tied for the second-worst record in the majors. …You could call it a decent season for the Avs since they advanced to the NHL’s final eight. But when you’ve built expectations as high as Colorado has, that hardly qualifies as decent – especially when you consider the Avs went 0-8 against Detroit this year. …Headline of the Week comes from MSN.com, where this little nugget popped onto the screen unannounced: “Video: John Daly plays golf with no shirt on.” (No, thanks.) …Either there are a bunch of idiots drafting players for NFL teams nowadays, or Mel Kiper still thinks he’s smarter than basically the entire league. In grading the drafts of 32 clubs, Kiper handed out exactly one “A” and three “B+” marks. Everyone else scored below that, with the Broncos being one of many teams to receive a “C+.” …To those who thought Julio Franco would play baseball until Roger Clemens stopped telling lies, we bring proof that nobody is THAT durable. Franco, 49, retired from pro ball last weekend, as announced by the Mexican League team he was playing for at the time. He made his big-league debut in 1982 and, according to one story I read, was the last remaining player to have faced a pitcher who also faced Ted Williams. …Here is one reason why the Giro d’Italia might actually be more compelling than the Tour de France. Astana, which was banned from the major tours earlier this year, has been given a last-minute entry into the Giro, which starts this weekend. Accordingly, we’ll get to see arguably the three best tour racers in the sport compete after all, with Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloeden and reigning TdF champ Alberto Contador now in the field in Italy. The best part? Kloeden said Astana and director Johan Bruyneel still haven’t figured out which of the three will be the team’s designated leader, meaning we could enjoy a spirited intrasquad battle as the Giro unfolds. …Stat of the Week: Lakers coach Phil Jackson is 39-0 in playoff series when he wins Game 1. That is absolutely astounding. …Stat of the Week, runner-up: Penn State won the NCAA men’s volleyball title with only two Californians on its 17-man roster. If you follow volleyball, you know how rare that is. …In parting, if I were the starting quarterback on college football’s defending national champion team, there are a few things I would do. I would go to class. I would attend practices and meetings. Silly Ryan Perrilloux. He didn’t do any of that, so he got kicked off the team last week by LSU coach Les Miles.Hopefully Perrilloux can spell regret, because in 20 years, he’ll know it like none other.Breckenridge resident Devon O’Neil’s $0.02 column runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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