Updated: April 2, 2014, 11:33 AM ET


Behind the reins at the Kentucky Derby

By Steve Davidowitz | Special to ESPN.com

No doubt, Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte rode a perfect race when he was aboard Secretariat for that fantastic colt's record setting Kentucky Derby win in 1973. But the great Thoroughbred champion was so strong that Turcotte admits that he didn't need to do much.

"I pointed Secretariat in the right direction," he said, leaving out the fact that the great colt looped the field in two spectacular moves to win that historic Derby.

Other Derbies since the 1950's certainly were dominated by the right horse in the right place at the right time: Swaps, for instance, simply outran Nashua in the '55 Derby and Dust Commander effortlessly scored a five-length win on an off track he relished in 1970. Different riders could have been aboard those Derby winners on those particular days without any change in the outcomes.

But over my lifetime, there have been several Kentucky Derby victories that were directly pulled off by the small-sized humans who delivered huge performances on horseback.

Racing is an exciting and dangerous sport, especially for the lightweight athletes who risk life and limb riding these 1,000 pound, high strung, Thoroughbreds in 15-20 horse Derby fields, in front of 130,000 live spectators and millions more on television. They may or may not be on the best horse, but every little mistake made will be magnified by slow motion replays and will draw a million words in newsprint.

That is why I have great admiration for the jockeys -- who in some specific cases - were mostly responsible for getting their horses to the Churchill Downs winner's circle.

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Kentucky Derby wagering a regional affair

By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

One Kentucky Derby bet goes without saying: It's the one placed on the home team.

It's tradition.

The best horse at your track is your horse. Your track is usually the closest to home. Being there to watch the horse run at your track usually ups the amount of the wager that local or regional pride pushes to the windows. The owner, trainer and jockey comprise your team.

The horse racing equivalent to March Madness (which has evolved into April Angst) is the Kentucky Derby. May Mania. Once a year horse racing becomes something of a team game: Our racing is better than your racing.

There's even a one-and-done similarity shared by Derby horses and Kentucky basketball. Win the Derby and you're on to the breeding suite; with the basketball freshmen, it's on to the NBA.

The Kentucky Derby chase is also a little like the NBA. Players who had never so much as driven through your city before the draft, and leaves ten minutes after the last game of the season, comprise your beloved team. And horses that are flown or vanned in and take off after the race, perhaps never to return, are your horses.

Backing a home horse used to be expensive. Before all bets were comingled, local or regional wagering sites formed their own pools for the Kentucky Derby, with vastly different odds. A hot Arkansas horse might be 3-1 at Oaklawn and 5-1 at Churchill.

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