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1. It is a legal gamble.
2. Losers pay the winners minus a considerable cut for the house.
3. Nobody knows anything for sure. Booking the bets of the trainers would be a money-maker.
4. The tradition. This is the 139th edition. It comes as close to carrying on the charm of guys in fedoras at Yankee stadium as any sporting occasion.
5. The huge crowd. It correctly suggests that the sport is alive and vibrant. The lower levels of the game are supported by slot machine junkies and casino revenue. The average Thursday night in the sticks is full of average horses running for fat purses stoked by degenerate gamblers. So? Better horse racing gets this windfall than somebody else who wouldn't appreciate it as much.
6. The Derby bears no resemblance to a first-round NBA playoff game.
7. The race is run on dirt. Grass is for croquet. Artificial surfaces are for miniature golf.
8. The element of danger is always there. A disaster is one bad step or one bad decision away.
9. The hats.
10. Horse race people know how to celebrate. When a baseball player hits a home run, he clicks helmets with a teammate, some fun there. Basketball celebrants bang shoulders and backs. In many sports, success is defined by anger. Players scream. Fans burn. But after a big horse race score, it's pure joy everywhere, hugging and tipping and buying rounds for every house you can find.
11. Bob Costas. NBC doesn't roll this man out for any old event. To have your sport blessed by Costas suggests that the game on the whole is not as rough around the edges as film fiction might have suggested.
12. The call of the race. Imagine having to memorize 20 sets of colors and match them with oftentimes hard to pronounce names of horses. Imagine watching the entire field for any trouble that might develop at any point on the track. Imagine having to spot sudden changes in momentum and having to anticipate stretch runs. Mix in a signature phrase or statement or expression as they hit the wire. Get one tiny thing wrong and you're a big part of the story.
13. The start of the race. The way twenty horses break in close proximity to one another takes your breath and often determines the winner.
14. The photo in the winner's circle. There are usually about 75 people in there.
15. The song. It's "My Old Kentucky Home." Most people know the weep no more part, but can't come close to the lyric about the young people rolling on the little cabin floor.
16. The infield. Most horse race track infields are where they park the tractors. This one is full of people and is like a spring break for those who couldn't afford water.
17. The replays of the race. The isolations on single horses, and overhead replays, are among the best shots in sports.
18. The $200 motel room. Unfortunately it's 150 miles away.
19. The post position draw. Spots are drawn Wednesday. It's a dramatic ordeal: The connections drawing the rail are offered condolences all around.
20. Horses can't talk.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.