The annual Joe Pastry Run for the Roses insider

This morning was our annual crack-of-dawn family pilgrimage to Churchill Downs to inspect the entrants for this year’s Kentucky Derby. Everyone who knows me knows what an astute judge of horse flesh I am, so I can only hope you waited to call your bookie in anticipation of this late breaking baker-on-the-scene report.

Actually I can’t say I saw all the horses. The week before the Derby the good folks at Churchill Downs open the track at 6:00 A.M. to admit folks who’d like to watch the horses warm up. It’s quite a thing standing trackside at dawn, watching the horses run. When the rising sun catches them from behind charging down the track, the sight almost stops your heart: a silhouette of pure horse energy set against backlit clouds of condensing exhalation. God love the great state of Kentucky.

If the horses aren’t too wound up afterward, the jockeys will bring them back along the rail, where little girls in sundresses wait with peppermints in their outstretched hands. Talk about a local cultural happening, this is it.

So back to the horses. It’s widely presumed that this year’s race only has three horses in it: Big Brown, Pyro and Colonel John. I saw two of the three this morning and I have to say they were pretty impressive. By the time training really gets underway around 7:00 there are half a dozen or so horses on the track, not all of them Derby contenders since, well, this is the middle of the spring racing season. Thoroughbred colts and fillies run by at various speeds, but then suddenly out of nowhere there’s a pyowwwwwwww-type sound like a bullet out of a gun, and you know somebody special just went by. That somebody this morning was Cool Coal Man who zipped past without seeming to touch the ground. Likewise Visionaire, another very impressive looking animal. The whole time Pyro stood back by the post, never running, just standing there as if memorizing the track. I didn’t see him move, but I have to say he cast a daunting shadow.

Well before too long my own little fillies were getting restless so we had to move along. Of twenty Derby contenders I only saw four actually run, so I guess this year’s insider is a little subjective. But then every tip sheet is subjective in horse racing. So many things can happen in the course of a mile and a quarter. A horse can stall in the gate, get bumped in the pack or boxed in by a conspiracy of competitors. All of which is to say the fastest and best horse frequently doesn’t win (that’s what made Seabiscuit’s legendary duel with War Admiral such a true and honest test of raw horse power). That said, I’m going with Z Humor, a solid animal and proven winner that relishes long stretches like the Derby.

So there you have it, this year’s Pastry pick. Come Monday I’ll likely be $2 poorer. That’s life at the track.

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