Amazement. That is
the one feeling I was left with after watching the Kentucky Derby racing card
on Saturday. However, it was not the
performance of the top tier of 3 year olds that gave me this sensation. It was the performance of last year’s
Preakness winner, Shackleford. Growing
up, I have been extremely competitive in sports, but never exceptional at any
of them. To say I was last picked for
the kickball team is not accurate, but I wasn’t the first picked either. This was something that I learned early in
life, and to make up for raw physical ability, I had to compensate by simply
being tougher than my opponent.
The will to outlast is something that can be far more
devastating to physically superior competitors. When I witness this, regardless of the
sport, I am inspired. This is the exact
thing that occurred yesterday in the Churchill Downs Stakes. The stretch battle between Shackleford and
Amazombie was a thing of beauty. I would
say that Amazombie is a better sprinter, but he certainly met his match. After suicidal fractions were set for the ¼
and ½ mile, I thought Shackleford, and the stalking Amazombie were going to
fade like the wind coming down the long Churchill stretch.
To my astonishment, the race turned from a blistering pace
to a sheer battle of wills between 2 great horses. In one corner we had the reigning Eclipse
Award Champion Sprinter, and in the other corner, perhaps the toughest horse of
his generation. Shackleford has not
found the winner’s circle in nearly a year since his wire-to-wire Preakness
victory. And in this race he seemed
doomed again to be bested by another horse at the wire. On this day, however, just when Shackleford
was looking to get beat in the last few strides, he simply grit is teeth, and
pulled on the bit just a little bit harder, refusing to yield.
“Tough as nails.”
That was what my high school baseball coach used to call us when we
demonstrated exceptional toughness on the field. In this race, there is no expression more
deserving for the performance of Shackleford.
Even though I bet on Amazombie, I couldn’t help but find myself cheering
for Shack the whole length of the stretch.
I’ve never been so happy to lose a wager. The only thing that went against
Shackleford’s spectacular performance was the fact that Groupie Doll upped the
anti by running the same distance nearly a half second faster, and setting a
new track record, later in the day.
But regardless of Groupie Doll running away with a fantastic
win and finishing time, it was the toughness, grit, and determination of a
Shackleford that made this day special to me.
On any other day, his win would have been marvel for far longer than it
actually was. However, it is simply not
his style to stay in the spotlight for long.
Perhaps that is what he has so many fans? To see him overcome a challenge and find his
way to the winner’s circle again is something that will make this year’s
Kentucky Derby stand out. 10 years from
now, I wont remember the 2012 Kentucky Derby because of I’ll Have Another, but
rather I will remember I’ll Have Another because he won the Derby on the day of
one the best finishes I have ever seen in a completely different race.