Thursday, May 5, 2011

Monarchos' Run for the Roses

I remember, when I was a young boy, watching Secretariat's remarkable Kentucky Derby victory in 1973.

Actually, all of Secretariat's races were remarkable that spring and early summer, and I guess it would be hard to single out any one of his triumphs en route to the Triple Crown. They were all special.

Secretariat truly did some amazing things in 1973. On the afternoon that he won the Belmont Stakes (the third and final jewel in the Triple Crown), he won by an incredible 31 lengths. That was a record, but, to be fair, it was accomplished against only a handful of horses, and none was close to being Secretariat's equal.

He went from last to first on the first turn of the Preakness Stakes (the second jewel of the Triple Crown) and wound up winning by 2½ lengths.

But 38 years ago at Churchill Downs, running in what has long been called the "Fastest Two Minutes in Sports," Secretariat did something no other horse had ever done before. He finished it in less than two minutes (1:59 2/5, to be exact) — and he ran each quarter–mile faster than the one he had just completed.

(Here's some little–known trivia for you. Secretariat wasn't the only horse to run the Derby in under two minutes that afternoon. Runnerup Sham was 2/5 of a second behind.)

I never saw a horse like Secretariat — before or since. There may have been one that was almost as good — but that was before my time.

And I never thought I would see that performance in the Derby duplicated. But 10 years ago today, I saw another horse break the two–minute barrier at Churchill Downs.

His name was Monarchos, and he was ridden by Jorge F. Chavez. I can't say I remember what the final odds were in the 2001 Kentucky Derby (I've never paid close attention to the odds in a horse race unless I had a wager on it), but I gather that Monarchos was something of a longshot. He paid $23.00, $11.80 and $8.80. The place horse, Invisible Ink, must have been an even longer shot. He paid $46.60 and $21.20.

That made for some really astonishing payoffs in the exotic wagers that were available.

Exotic wagers often post some eye–popping payoffs, even when the odds on the horses are relatively low, but those payoffs in 2001 were really unusual. A $2 exacta ticket with those two horses on it paid $1,229. A $2 trifecta ticket with those two horses and the show horse, Congaree, paid $12,238.40. And a $1 superfecta ticket, with those three plus the fourth–place finisher, Thunder Blitz, paid $62,986.90.

May 5, 2001, was a great day to bet on longshots.

Last I heard, Monarchos was recovering from colic surgery.

And the outlook is good — for Monarchos, that is.

Not necessarily for anyone who hopes to see that two–minute barrier broken again at Churchill Downs on Saturday — although stranger things have happened.

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