By Dennis Miller
It’s not just horse racing fans, but sports fans in general that have memories of the Kentucky Derby.
Each year when the Derby gets close to taking place, we often sit around and regale of memories of the Run for the Roses that takes place the first Saturday in May each year.
If you have a sports pulse in any capacity, you have a memory of a Kentucky Derby. It could be the first time you watched a Derby and memories of the party you attended stuck in your mind. It could be winning a bet on the race, or it could be just missing on cashing your ticket.
I certainly have mine, but to be honest, I have never qualified a top 5 list of Kentucky Derby memories and decided to do just that in this space. Mine are a mix of financial success with memorable moments as a horse racing fan.One qualifier – these are races I was alive for and actually watched.
Without any more time, here are my five favorite Kentucky Derby races.
- 1995 Kentucky Derby: This takes the top spot by being the biggest payday I ever had for a Derby. Thunder Gulch was your winner with Tejano Run second and Timber Country third. Thunder Gulch was one of those horses I had embraced during the prep races for having a ton of heart, something that is vital to win the Derby. It was also a time where the odds differed from state to state. The horse, ridden by Gary Stevens, went off at 26-1 in Kentucky, but 19-1 in California. Just to get an idea of the payoffs, in Kentucky he paid $51 to win, with the exacta paying $480 and the trifecta at a tasty $2,099.20. I touted three of my friends on the bet at the Pleasanton OTB so the party went long into the night.
- 1992 Kentucky Derby: Here is the lone race in my top 5 where I did not cash a ticket. Lil E. Tee and Pat Day won the race, but my heart and most of Northern California’s, rested with the second and third place horses in the race, Casual Lies and Dance Floor. Casual Lies was a Pleasanton horse and Dance Floor owned by rapper M.C. Hammer. Both big long shots, they turned for home in first and second. Lil E. Tee ended up passing both horses in the lane, but for an everlasting moment, the crowd at Pleasanton Satellite Wagering center (located in the old roller rink at the Fairgrounds) was going crazy as the little town of Pleasanton was in the hunt for a Kentucky Derby win!
- 2014 Kentucky Derby: This was the year of California Chrome. Owned by a pair of printing shop operators from Fernley, Nevada and trained by the venerable Art Sherman, California Chrome made a name for himself by winning prep races in California. Still no one in the national media gave him much of a chance, but on May 3, it was California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza crossing the line first, making Sherman – 77-years-old at the time – the oldest trainer to win the Derby. It was also the first time a California-bred horse had won the race since 1962. California was an $8,000 purchase and gave the everyday race fan and feeling of hope. He quickly became a horse of the people.
- 2012 Kentucky Derby: The race was run on May 5 and the winner was I’ll Have Another. Despite not having the winner, I did have the first three in an exacta and trifecta box (exacta – $306.60; trifecta – $3,065.60). But what I will always remember this race is the gutsy effort of second-place finisher Bodemeister. Trainer Bob Baffert named the horse after his son Bode and the horse was a speed demon. In the Derby, Bodemeister went out in very quick fractions, times that usually leave a horse sucking wind as they turn for home. But ridden by Mike Smith, Bodemeister kept fighting as was only passed by the eventual winner in the final furlong.
- 1978 Kentucky Derby: I was a junior in high school at the running of this race and while I had been a fan of horse racing thanks to growing up in Pleasanton, this was the race that put horse racing at a national level right in my face. The first of Affirmed’s Triple Crown wins and it was a battle between Alydar throughout the race before Affirmed pulled it out. It was a battle the two would carry-out throughout the Triple Crown races, with the margin decreasing in each start. It was head-to-head match that hooked for me for life on the sport!