Horsing Around

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by Nick Thomas

Everyone has a method for picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Mine completely ignores form or pedigree, so I wouldn’t go betting the farm on my predictions.

Take this year’s 138th Derby. Since it falls on Cinco de Mayo, this was clearly a sign for me that the colt “El Padrino” (Spanish for godfather) should win the 1.25 mile sprint around Churchill Downs.

For last year’s event, a very moving experience was involved in my selection. Just prior to the race, I had a colonoscopy and the preceding night had suffered through the indignant “prep” that clears out the bowels.

So naturally I selected “Watch Me Go” as the 2011 winner.

Bummer. He trotted in eighteenth  which, coincidently, just happened to be the number of bathroom trips I made during that night.

I had better success in 2008 picking “Big Brown” as the winner. This revelation came from my vision of a large horse with a very active digestive system and a stable boy following discreetly behind with a hefty shovel.

Let me stress that gastrointestinal problems don’t always factor into my Derby selections; they are based solely on the horse’s name.

So in 2005, I chose “Giacomo.” The 50-1 shot, who fought his way into the lead from the back of the field to win, was named after the son of rock star Sting. I didn’t have any special fondness for Sting’s music, but did have a rather unpleasant encounter with a wasp that spring.

I imagine other punters use equally poor logic to pick a winner. One method might be to look for a connection to your profession.

For instance, if you were a historian in 1875 when the first Kentucky Derby was run, you couldn’t overlook “Aristides,” who was named after a statesman from the days of ancient Greece.

Along these lines, what English teacher wouldn’t have been rooting for “Macbeth II” in 1988?

And bankers would surely have expressed interest in choosing “High Yield” (2000), “Dollar Bill” (2001), or “Coin Silver” (2005).

There have even been years where a horse’s name could provide presidential scholars with a clue to picking a Derby champ:

“Omaha” (1935) is the birthplace of Gerald Ford; George W. Bush was a “Jet Pilot” (1947); “Go For Gin” (1994) is what Nixon probably did every morning he picked up the Washington Post during Watergate; “Charismatic” (1999) could describe Barack Obama, but so could “Spend a Buck” (1985), although “Spend a Trillion Bucks” might be more appropriate given the escalating national debt.

Take a guess which president could be associated with these Derby winners: “Behave Yourself,” “Foolish Pleasure,” and “Genuine Risk” (1921, 1975, and 1980, respectively). Let’s just say they would all fit the Bill.

Horse racing was a sport long before shaming disgraced U.S. presidents became popular. Around 4500 BC, when Ron Paul first ran for president, nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia first domesticated the horse.

In the 12th century, English knights returned from the Crusades with swift Arab horses that were bred with English horses producing offspring with greater speed and endurance. Racing the fastest horses for wagers soon became a popular recreation for the aristocracy.

The Spanish brought the first domesticated horses to America in the early 1500s, and British settlers later introduced horse racing to the continent. The first racetrack appearing on Long Island in 1665, but it wasn’t until after the Civil War that organized racing emerged as a widespread sport in the U.S.

Today, horses are referenced throughout human culture. Even our language reflects their prominence in society. “Horse of a different color,” “hold your horses,” and “horsing around” are all familiar expressions. And yes, you might even cynically apply those terms to the aforementioned Clinton scandal. Certainly, at least for a brief time during his administration, the president “changed horses in mid-stream.”

I’m not sure if President Clinton made a prediction for this year’s Derby. But if he applied my method, he’d probably drop a few dollars on “Liaison” or “I’ll Have Another.”

As for the former First Lady, who surely lectured her wayward hubby about his extracurricular activities, she might just be partial to “Rousing Sermon.”