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Monday, February 25, 2013
Racing's tale of two long shots


It was a tale of two long shots.

Involved was a lesson in how fame and fortune can be all-too- fleeting in the tumultuous world of horse racing and that the proverbial 15 minutes of glory often passes much quicker than that.

It all unfolded at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Saturday, when an upstart without an apostrophe named Ive Struck a Nerve shook up the Kentucky Derby chase by winning the $400,000 Risen Star by a nose. His payoff for the handful of backers who bought $2 win tickets on him was an astronomical $272.40 on the 135-1 shot.

Rest assured that pays for a lot of apostrophes.

In beating a field that included more highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospects like Code West, Place Malice, Oxbow and the favored Normandy Invasion, who were second through fifth, respectively, Ive Struck a Nerve also gave the Derby chase the kind of rags-to-riches story that can warm many hearts.

The winner was originally a $1,700 weanling purchase who owned only a maiden win before Saturday -- which came in his sixth career start -- and his best finish in a stakes was a second in the $148,000 Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds last December. Finishing behind him were five horses that had finished in the money in a graded stakes.

The trainers who finished second through fifth were, in order, Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas and Chad Brown, two of whom are in the Hall of Fame, one who is a no-brainer to land there and another who ranks among the game's best young talents. Meanwhile, Ive Struck a Nerve is trained by Keith Desormeaux, who has never won more than 39 races in a year and is not even the most well known member of the racing community in his immediate family. That role belongs to his brother, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux.

Ive Struck a Nerve is owned by Matt Bryan's Big Chief Racing, a stable which, according to equibase.com, has an all-time record of six starts, two wins and two seconds, all in 2013.

Put it all together and Ive Struck a Nerve offers the pleasing tale of an obscure horse and its humble connections trying to stand tallest of all on a sport's most bejeweled stage.

But for how long will it resonate?

With 51 points in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" standings, Ive Struck a Nerve most likely secured a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Can lightning possibly strike twice?

Enter the second long shot.

As a reminder of why it can be unwise to focus too much attention or hope on a racetrack hero who seems to pop out of nowhere, we offer the eighth race on Saturday's card at Fair Grounds. Contested two races before the Risen Star, the $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap featured a field of seven that included Hero of Order.

Some well-versed in racing trivia or fortunate enough to bet a few bucks on him last April might recall Hero of Order as 2012's Mr. Improbable. Defying the odds stacked against him, Hero of Order captured the Louisiana Derby on April 1 at preposterous 109-1.

On Saturday, Hero of Order ran fourth at 21-1 odds, to, ironically enough, Mark Valeski, who was second to him in last year's Louisiana Derby. It marked Hero or Order's ninth straight loss since his April Fool's Day stunner.

He never even made it to the Kentucky Derby as he finished 13th in the Blue Grass Stakes two weeks after his head-scratching win in the Louisiana Derby.

The magic he found on one day in April of 2012 was never recreated. Fifteen minutes of fame was reduced to about the same 1:50 it took Hero of Order to circle the Fair Grounds. In racing, it seems, whenever something inexplicable happens it's best to savor the moment and avoid the temptation to ponder an even more serendipitous future

Perhaps Ive Struck a Nerve might break that mold. It's surely possible and it happens every now and then.

Yet even the Kentucky Derby itself does not take kindly to surprises. The last four Derby winners have been long shots who paid $32.60, $43.80, $18 and $103.20. Combined the four of them have won just two races in their starts since winning the Roses.

Fame may not be a stranger in racing, but that doesn't mean it sticks around for long. Sorry to say, but in horse racing, 15 minutes of fame can definitely be pushing it.