Although I have never ventured to Louisville to watch the Kentucky Derby in person, I have watched many on the tube and evaluated them in my half-century of writing sports.
This year’s 137th running of the annual event on the first Saturday of May was very different from those in the past.

First of all, there was no clear-cut favorite that out-performed the field in the Derby Prep Races of the 19 qualified entries. In fact, Uncle Mo, the horse that had won the most money in the graded races prior to the Derby and was last year’s top two-year-old, was scratched from the race Friday with an internal ailment.

Robby Albarado, the jockey slated to ride eventual winner Animal Kingdom, suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations after being thrown from his mount in the post parade of the third race at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

So John Velazquez, the jockey who normally rides Uncle Mo, was asked to sub for Albarado on Animal Kingdom, despite the fact he was 0-12 in past derbies.

Perhaps the jockey change stimulated the bettors because the odds on Animal Kingdom went from 30-1 Saturday morning to 20-1 at post time.

But there were plenty of reasons NOT to bet on Animal Kingdome, the biggest one was that the colt had NEVER raced on a dirt track in his life. He became the first horse in the 137-year history of the derby to win his debut on dirt, having run three times on synthetic surfaces and once on turf in his four previous races.

He also became the first horse since 1956 to win the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff and the first horse since 1918 to win America’s biggest race with so few starts.
Actually the only Graded Derby Prep Race Animal Kingdom won was The Spiral at Turfway Park on March 26. Velazquez was the fifth jockey to ride Animal Kingdom in as many races.
Usually when all the horses are in the starting gate and the flag is up, the three-year-olds are raring to break out of the gate. On Saturday the gate opened and there was a couple seconds delay before the horses took off, almost like they were being polite to each other.

Animal Kingdom moved up near the head of the pack midway through the race and overtook 8-1 choice Nehro in the deep stretch and powered to a 2 ¾-length victory. Animal Kingdom returned $43.80 to win, $19.60 to place and $13 to show. Nehro paid $8 and $6.40 and Mucho Macho Man paid $7.

“Once I pulled him out by the eighth pole, I knew I was gone,” Velazquez evaluated while in the winner’s circle.

Even though Albarado will be available to ride Animal Kingdom in the Preakness on May 21, trainer Graham Motion and Barry Irwin, who oversees the Team Valor partnership that owns Animal Kingdom, wants to keep Velazquez on his colt for the second leg of the Triple Crown if the partnership agrees to enter the Derby winner.

While Irwin mulls the Preakness, the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes is a strong option. “The Belmont is the kind of race that this horse is bred to win, let’s face it,” Irwin said.

Animal Kingdom now can become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978 (Affirmed) if he can win the Preakness May 21 in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes on June 11 in New York.

Animal Kingdom proved his pedigree as a turf horse wrong in the Derby. “Some of the best horses were ones who were able to handle both (turf and dirt),” Motion said. “He appears to be one of those great horses that can handle both.”

KWICKIES…Houston Astros’ manager Brad Mills needs to get more mileage out of his starting pitchers. He has seen his bullpen blow nine of its 14 save opportunities so far this season which is the worst in the major leagues. His five million dollar closer Brandon Lyon, who saved four games and blew four games in his eight save chances is on the disabled list with an inflammation in his biceps tendons. He looked like a batting practice pitcher when he was out there trying to save games. It took reliever Fernando Abad just four batters to show how bad he is, getting one out, giving up a hit, walk and a three-run home run to deny starter J. A. Happ a victory Sunday at Pittsburgh. The Astros led 4-2 until Abad came on the scene.

Los Angeles Dodgers Andre Ethier’s 30-game hitting streak ended Saturday when the Mets took a 4-2 victory over LA, but he did reach base for the 31st straight game. Houston outfielder Hunter Pence has an 11-game hitting streak through Sunday’s action.
The American League featured two no-hitters last week with Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano blanking the Chicago White Sox last Tuesday and Detroit’s Justin Verlander getting his gem against Toronto Saturday. Verlander became the 30th pitcher with multiple no-hitters.

The West Orange-Stark Mustangs track team will be going for a “three-peat” this weekend, seeking their third straight Class 3A state championship in the University Interscholastic League State Track Meet at the University of Texas in Austin. Coach Toby Foreman will be banking on the fivesome of Ed Ivory, Phillip Jones, Justin Thomas, Mark Roberts and Colin Janice to bring home the bacon once again. Also heading to Austin will be Lady Mustangs’ sprinter Johneshia Sims, Little Cypress-Mauriceville’s Hayden Reed in the shot put and discus and Bears’ sprinter Alex Sezar.

Speaking of “three-peats” one that fizzled badly was the attempt by the Los Angeles Lakers to win their third straight NBA world championship. The Dallas Mavericks swept the Lakers in four straight games in the Western Conference semifinals, ending LA’s bid and probably sending Lakers coach Phil Jackson into final retirement.

My alma mater McNeese State University downed Lamar 4-2 Sunday in the rubber game of the three-game weekend series. The victory kept the Cowboys in the Southland Conference playoff hunt, currently tied for eighth place with Nicholls State. The Cardinals fell to 11-16 in the SLC and 25-23 overall and have two conference series left to try and move into the top eight to qualify for the SLC Tournament which will begin in San Marcos on May 26. The Big Red will host UT-Arlington this weekend in a three-game series at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont.

JUST BETWEEN US…A source able to obtain a copy of the contract of new Lamar University basketball coach Pat Knight reveals that former coach Steve Roccaforte didn’t have the same opportunities for success that have been given to the Cardinals’ new head man. The base salary was fairly comparable for both coaches ($136,500 for Coach Roc and $150,000 for Knight), but the incentives are certainly different. Knight has an opportunity to make an extra $50,000 after three seasons while Coach Roc’s contract contained zero incentive money. Knight can pay assistant coaches and a Director of Basketball Operations a combined total of $237,000 compared to the $130,000 Roc was allocated to pay three assistant coaches. Lamar University will provide Knight with $5,000 for moving expenses and 12 tickets to each game.