In my family, the Kentucky Derby is a bigger deal than the World Series, the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl.
That first Saturday in May, we tune in for the most exciting two minutes of sport. But this year’s race sure kicked up some stones in the home stretch.
The Kentucky Derby is forever linked to my parents’ wedding day: May 2, 1964. That’s the day Northern Dancer claimed victory, setting the record as the first Canadian-bred horse to win this prestigious event. And my father was late to the gate of his own wedding (now that is a race I wish I’d seen).
I grew up near the Windfields Farm estate, owned by Canadian business tycoon Edward P. Taylor, where Northern Dancer was bred and later enjoyed a prolific retirement as one of the greatest sires, and sire of sires, in the 20th century. What a legacy.
Amongst photographs of their grandchildren, the only other portraiture on the walls of my parents’ home is Northern Dancer. Actually, there are two prints of that beautiful horse. He was a big deal (bigger than their own kids, apparently – cough).
This year, the Carpenter and I tuned in an hour before the race to watch televised interviews with the owners, trainers and my favourite people, the jockeys.
This is how we picked our horses and naturally, we never agree on a horse.
Our competitive spirit took hold. We exchanged some unsportsmanlike smack talk and before I knew it, we made a bet potentially worth thousands of dollars (note: neither of us have thousands of dollars and we know it because we share a bank account).
I chose a Canadian-trained horse named Keepmeinmind, with stellar odds of 47-1. I like my shots long (cough). Jockey David Cohen wore orange in his colours, my favourite colour. Good enough for me.
The Carpenter, who is far more pragmatic, put his money on Medina Spirit with 12-1 odds, because he likes a sure thing (biting my tongue on so many punch lines).
Since he made such a big deal about my long shot, I proposed the following bet: if I won, the Carpenter had to buy me seasons tickets for the Toronto Rock. Deal. And if he won bragging rights, I would treat him to tickets to a Seattle Seahawks game in Seattle. Yes, I realize this was dumb.
The Carpenter didn’t make any bets on his front runner, though. He just wanted to win so I would lose. He wanted to be right. This says so much about our relationship.
He won. Well, Medina Spirit won. Same thing. Smug Carpenter.
Imagine our surprise when the news broke that Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby win was in question after the thoroughbred tested positive for drugs. Scandalous.
While the jury is still out, more than a month later, I think the writing is on the stall.
As the saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth. Sure, I lost my lacrosse tickets, but now I don’t need a second job to pay for the trip to Seattle for my smug Carpenter.
Next year? I’m hedging my bets.
(Now that I’ve written this, I bet Medina Spirit is cleared and declared the winner. Just my luck.)