Home. Derby in the rearview mirror, Preakness ahead, the Belmont in four weeks, Saratoga looming (time to book your ads!). Wow, life goes fast.
We interviewed trainer Art Sherman immediately after winning the Derby. The newest oldest trainer to win the Derby stood on the track, staring straight ahead, answering all the questions, humbled and awed. He galloped Swaps. Imagine. Cool horse. Perfect ride. Great story. I wasn’t a believer, that has changed…two more, one time.
Sherman and California Chrome once again confirm that this game is about the horse. There was a time when it seemed like you had to be Lukas, Baffert or Zito to win the Derby, I think I remember a magazine cover with those three trainers on it. Those days are gone – long gone – now you can be Sherman, Shug, O’Neill, Motion, Matz, Servis, Shirreffs, Nafzger, Woolley…15 different trainers in the last 15 years. Hmm, maybe it is the horse.
Churchill Downs continues to downgrade the Derby experience. This year, it felt like a minor league hockey game – you know when they shoot T-shirts into the crowd, set fire to things, jump through hoops. The music blared, deafening loud, with momentary breaks for inane interviews from the red carpet and other areas of Churchill cordoned off to the masses (they told us this) and the latest from the hat cam. Yes, a hat cam. I kept think I was going to see the Philly Phanatic parachute from the Twin Spires. The big board is awesome and occasionally horses appeared on it, that was great, the rest was stimulation overload, like being stuck in an MRI machine with Van Halen playing on a loop.
I’m sure this type of atmosphere works on a Friday night, but not on Oaks and Derby Day. Trust your product – at least on Oaks and Derby Day – and trust your patron. The experience is supposed to feel classy, not cheesy. If you want loud music, you go to a concert or the infield or to the races Friday night, you don’t go to the Oaks and Derby. I walked over with the Oaks fillies, when they turned in front of the grandstand, the music hit them like a bus into a wall. It annoyed me. It unnerved them.
As for life here, grandparents’ day at Hill School tomorrow, a couple of runners this weekend and another funeral today. Way too many of the latter, lately.