COMMENTARY: Kentucky Derby, An American Institution

Charles E. Sutton | 5/1/2014, 3 p.m.
How sweet it is! The Kentucky Derby — the best two minutes in sports? — is upon us again.
Courtesy of kentuckyderby.com

How sweet it is! The month of May is upon us, and spring has sprung. The flowers are blooming, we celebrate Cinco de Mayo and, of course, the NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing.

But wait, there's more — my personal favorite, the Kentucky Derby.

The Derby is indeed an American institution. Boxing legend Floyd "Money" Mayweather is scheduled to fight Marcos Maidana on the same day as the Derby, but the biggest thoroughbred race of the year will dominate the sports landscape that day. Sure, there will be NBA playoff games played on that day too, but they won't garner nearly as much attention as the Derby.

Many consider the Derby to be the most exciting two minutes in sports. Although the race may be brief, it's a competition that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. The race features some of the most beautiful, athletic 3-year-old colts in the world.

The Derby is the first leg of the three races that make up the Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. No horse has won all three since Affirmed did it in 1978, the year the Washington Bullets (yes, Bullets) won the NBA title. It's been that long.

The race itself is surrounded by several traditions. First, female attendees typically wear hats. Not ball caps. Hats! We're talking about the fanciest, boldest, finest hats available. Some are small, some are large and some have veils. But, one thing is for certain, they all make a real statement.

Secondly, two words: mint julep. It's served on ice and comprised of bourbon, mint and a sugar syrup. Over the years, it has become the traditional cocktail of the race. Most patrons consume their drink from a souvenir glass which features the names of all previous Derby winners, while others sip it from an ice-frosted silver julep cup. Either way, it's simply delicious!

Two of the Derby elements that I find most intriguing are that each horse only gets one shot, and the race goes on no matter the weather conditions. When a horse wins the Derby, one of the obvious questions is: Could that horse win it again? Or, when a horse comes up short, could it win next year? Unfortunately, we'll never know because the Derby is specifically for 3-year-old colts.

As for the weather, the Derby has been run on beautiful, sunny days with a dry, fast track. Conversely, the race has occurred on rainy, cool days with a slow, muddy track. Depending on the horse, the weather conditions matter. A speed horse, for example, would be most effective on a dry, fast surface. Luckily, Saturday's forecast for Louisville calls for 65 degrees, partly cloudy skies and only a 10 percent chance of rain — great news if for no other reason than because the ladies' hats won't get wet and there won't be any rain in the cocktails.

But enough of what you already know — here's which horse is gonna win this thing. No surprise here, I'm picking the odds-on favorite, California Chrome.

Why? Well, the horse has won its last four races, including the Santa Anita Derby earlier this month. Yes, there are several other horses with a real chance to win — Danza, Wicked Strong, and Vicar's In Trouble, to name a few. But California Chrome is simply too dominant for this field.

That's why I'm not only picking California Chrome to win the Derby, but to also win the Triple Crown. There, I'm sticking my neck out. But first things first — let's enjoy the Derby and feast your eyes on one of the best thoroughbreds we’ve seen in a long time.