Saturday, May 4, 2013

Running for the Roses

I don't really have what folks have taken to calling a "bucket list."

Maybe I've always had a more realistic set of expectations than most people. I don't know. But it seems to me that most of the things I hoped to do when I was younger I have done.

I always liked writing and wanted to make a living doing it. So I majored in journalism, worked as a general assignment reporter, worked as a copy editor and have taught writing to university and community college students. I'm still doing the latter — as an adjunct.

I loved Theodore H. White's books on the making of the president, and I wanted to cover politics. I had no sooner finished work on my bachelor's degree than I found myself covering a gubernatorial runoff that featured a future president (Bill Clinton).

I grew up reading the Arkansas Gazette, and I dreamed that I would one day work for the Gazette. And I did, for more than 4½ years.

I grew up with a passion for team sports, especially football. I worked in the Gazette's sports department — editing stories written by journalists I had been reading for years.

If, as the old rhyme says, I should die before I wake ... I think I can honestly say that I achieved most of the goals I set for myself.

Except for one. I have never been to a Kentucky Derby. And that is something I would like to do once in my life.

(I just want to clarify one thing before I go on. When I speak of goals, of course, I'm overlooking the goals everyone has — i.e., acquiring wealth and/or power — and almost no one achieves.)

When I lived in Arkansas, I used to go to the horse track in Hot Springs on my days off in the spring. It was a grand form of entertainment. I planned on spending a certain amount of money and never expected to win my fortune. Mostly, I enjoyed watching the horses run — and watching the people who came to watch the horses run.

People watching seems to be at its peak at Churchill Downs. It always is — and I'm sure it will be when the horses run for the roses there later today.

And I'll be watching, as I always do. I don't know much about the field. I never do. Orb seems to be generating a lot of favorable coverage as the general favorite. But I wouldn't call him a solid favorite

I don't really have a dog in this hunt — except to say that I hope whichever horse wins goes on to win the Preakness and the Belmont, too. Horse racing hasn't had a Triple Crown winner in 35 years.

And, with the economy the way it is, I figure there's more than a nugget or two of truth in Mike Downey's column for that looked back on Secretariat's Triple Crown 40 years ago this year.

"Desperately seeking Secretariat," writes Downey. "We could use a new you. A superhorse to make our hearts pound the way your hooves did. A four–legged stud to give us a break from cheating golfers, dog–torturing football quarterbacks and doped–up bike racers and baseball sluggers."

America could use a shot in the arm. That certainly was something that Secretariat provided 40 years ago.

But times weren't as bad in 1973 as they are in 2013. The burden of expectations is likely to be much heavier on the winner of today's Run for the Roses than it was for Secretariat — who, nevertheless, carried the weight of a 25–year Triple Crown drought on his back and still capped his Triple Crown run with an astonishing 30–length victory in the Belmont.

Secretariat, though, was a truly once–in–a–lifetime horse. None of his descendants has come close to duplicating his achievement.

But that is the magic of the first Saturday in May, isn't it? The possibility that the winner of the Kentucky Derby will go on to win the Preakness and the Belmont as well.

We shall see.

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