Commentary

What's not to like?

Updated: May 5, 2009, 4:09 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

After the 135th Derby, here's a question to go unanswered: What's not to like about horse racing just now?

Jockey Calvin Borel and the bluebloods, with Borel almost using the rail like an Olympic balance beam; the favorite nowhere in sight; a horse from New Mexico and the bluebloods; no mishaps; about the lowest best Beyer number in the race won; it was like a public-service announcement for horse racing.

The greatest thing about this Derby is about the same thing as most Derbies: Nobody knows anything about picking some winners.

TV people know nothing.

Newspaper people know nothing.

Tip-sheet and power-rating people know nothing.

Experts who invent systems that are taken as the foundation of horse-race handicapping know nothing.

You and I know a little something, as our picks to win ran second, and the pick for fourth ran fifth.

Experts said the California horses were laughable; experts said a seven-week layoff was no big deal for the favorite.

It's wonderful that nobody knows anything much about hitting a big Derby ticket except people to whom good things have happened around the number 8. It sets the sport off from the routine. Who wins the BCS college football title? Who cares, really, because it's not a national championship. The elite teams always get there and one elite team always wins. Who wins the Super Bowl? First off, there are only two competitors, not 19. The favorite wins. Who wins a golf major? One of two, Tiger or the field. Who wins the NBA? One of the two top seeds.

Who runs 1-2 in the Kentucky Derby?

Well, any of 19; then any of 18, which adds up when it comes time to wager a buck or two.

Nothing in sport presents a bigger puzzle than a great horse race. Everything is different from the time before, sometimes the moment before, the racing surface, the post position. And horses can't tell you how they feel.

And according to most estimates, there are fewer punks visible in horse racing at its highest level than exist in any other sport.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.

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