They used to send me stuff, back when I was the Horse Guy. May would loom, and suddenly the folks at Churchill Downs were deforesting the Black Forest, faxing me reams of data about the Kentucky Derby contenders that, for all the good it did me, might as well have been written in Ferengi.
"How did I become the horse guy?" I always complained.
Well. Not really.
In actuality, I knew how I had become the Horse Guy: I had written a piece on Hoosier Park when it opened, and Hoosier Park was a Churchill Downs property. That's how I ended up on their mailing/faxing/emailing list -- and, despite my whining, I was OK with that.
For one thing, I always liked the air of authority it gave me. I'd read the latest release, look around the newsroom and say, with an air of Ted Baxter imperiousness, "Hey, did you hear about It's A Horse, the Derby favorite? He walked the shedrow today. How about that?"
What I didn't say, as people fled my immediate vicinity, was I had no idea what walking the shedrow meant. For all I knew, it meant It's A Horse was out looking for a little action. I might have been the Horse Guy, but that didn't mean I knew anything about 'em.
Truth be told, I couldn't tell you the difference between a fetlock and a padlock. Ask me how long a furlong was, and I'd say, "Pretty fur." And if you'd say "What's it mean that My Friend Flicka breezed six furlongs yesterday, Horse Guy?" ... hell, I didn't know. Was it windy yesterday?
This is not to say I don't love the Derby. I do. I love everything about it. I love the twin spires and the Colonel Sanders guys and those women who wear entire condos on top of their heads. I love that song by Dan Fogelberg. I love how artfully everyone ignores the obvious -- that mint juleps taste like Robitussin, and that "My Old Kentucky Home" is racist as hell -- and how, when they're loading the horses into the gate, there's always at least one who refuses to be loaded.
It's A Horse: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean I gotta go in there?
It's A Horse (taking a closer look): No way, man. This wasn't part of the deal.
With my luck, it's that horse I'll put my two bucks on. Which means it won't be American Pharoah or Dortmund or any of the other favorites, because one thing you learn when you're the Horse Guy is it's no fun to pick the favorites, especially if they haven't, uh, breezed the shed ... thing.
No, if you're looking for a Horse Guy kind of horse, you're looking at a horse like Ocho Ocho Ocho, a 50-1, 50-1, 50-1 shot. You're looking at Mubtaahij, a 20-1 pick who was born in Ireland and has a South African trainer, a Belgian jockey and an owner from Dubai. You're looking at Materiality, because the last horse to win the Derby without winning as a 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882, when Chester Arthur was president. And who doesn't love a random Chester Arthur reference?
Then there's El Kabeir, going off at 30-1 but worth a look because Calvin Borel's in the irons, and watching Calvin Borel win the Derby is more fun than kittens on Red Bull. Besides, he wins so often at Churchill Downs, Churchill is thinking of filing an intellectual property suit.
None of these, however, is my horse.
After much consideration (i.e., I flipped a coin), I'm going with Mr. Z. Mr. Z is a 50-1 shot, but that's not why I like him. I like him because he comes out of the same stable as American Pharoah, which is kind of like saying he's the kid brother American Pharoah used to pound on when they were growing up. But here's the best part: Mr. Z got his revenge.
If you look closely at American Pharoah, you'll notice his tail is a trifle short. This is Mr. Z's doing, or so everyone suspects. Apparently he chewed off American Pharoah's tail when no one was looking.
If that doesn't make him the perfect Horse Guy horse, I don't know what does.
So here ya go, Mr. OTB Guy. Two bucks on the feisty little bro.