O’Donnell: Bailey, Olczyk, NBC set for another Derby Day

BEGIN WITH THE UNDERSTANDING that the Kentucky Derby continues to exist at the level it's at primarily to enrich corporate master Churchill Downs Inc.

That bluegrass blend doesn't go down well with devotees of the late Arlington Park. They're facing yet another first weekend in May still reeling from the bottom-line brutality of Bunker Bill Carstanjen and his associated paddock stompers.

(Full truth: Had Dick Duchossois wanted racing at AP to continue after his death, the local oval would still be alive. He didn't, as he suggested in a 2014 conversation. He had his reasons. And that was that.)

Nonetheless, the 150th Run for the Roses will go on Saturday (1:30 p.m., NBC). A full field of 20 is expected with a scheduled post time of 5:57 p.m.

THE BRILLIANT JERRY BAILEY — one of the best sports analysts on TV — will lead a Peacock cavalcade that includes Randy Moss, Mike Tirico, Donna Brothers and Eddie Olczyk, among others.

For Bailey, it will be his 35th Derby as either a jockey or broadcaster. For Olczyk, by some accounts increasingly sleepless while in NHL local analyst exile in Seattle, it'll be No. 10 on NBC.

EVERYONE WANTS TO PICK a winner. The last five Derbies have left most dazed and confused and Bob Baffert banished. The morning-line odds list Todd Pletcher's Fierceness (#17, 5-2) and Chad Brown's Sierra Leone (#2, 3-1) on top.

Some think this is the year when the racing gods will toss another Derby to monied Japanese interests. (Fusiachi Pegasus won in 2000.) That bodes well for either T O Forward (#10, 30-1) or Forever Young (#11, 10-1).

A lightly raced colt positioned for a nice jump up is Just a Touch (#8, 10-1). Whether “jump up” means win requires an IRCB — Insouciant Racing Code Book — and a whole lotta luck.

ONE YEAR AGO, Larry Rivelli — a multiple Arlington trainers champ — thrilled the region when his Two Phil's (12-1) took the lead at the top of the Derby stretch. But “Phil” was run down by longer shot Mage ($32.42 to win) and finished second.

Earlier on the card, Rivelli and principal owner Vinnie Foglia cashed big time when their Nobals lobstered the Twin Spires Turf Sprint, winning and paying $78.42.

Two Phil's was retired to stud. He now stands at WinStar Farm in Kentucky, where he commands $12,500 per hookup. He is expected to cover between 150 and 170 mares this year and is said to prefer Niall Horan for mood music.

Rivelli has nothing in this weekend at Churchill Downs on either Friday's Kentucky Oaks card or the Derby Day matinee.

“To be honest, I think we're still living off of the Nobals win,” he joked Tuesday.

His cheery banter can now only whistle over what was once Arlington Park.


News that Matt Ryan is in and Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason are out on CBS's “The NFL Today” merely reminds that the password on NFL pre-game programming remains “bland.” A swarthy gambling tout handing out last-hour “inside information” on set would at least allow committed contrarians to bet against the herd. …

Terrific idea from Jay Mariotti: Fox Sports should be pairing Tom Brady alongside Bill Belichick with Kevin Burkhardt on its No. 1 NFL team. High concept has apparently evaded network noogies. …

Speaking of Belichick, the Happy Warrior has always been fond of quoting mythic Paul Brown's old axiom: “The punt is the most important play in football.” Ergo, if Iowa's Tory Taylor flips even one game for the Bears this season, Ryan Poles gets yet another golden paw on his draft iPad. …

Recent sports talk laughter about Johnny Morris still being the Bears all-time leader in receiving yards (5,059) disrespects ol' No. 47 in a key vein: By 1962, three NFLers were pioneering the fresh position of “flanker” — Morris, Tommy McDonald (Philadelphia) and Bobby Mitchell (Washington). McDonald and Mitchell are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Where's Johnny? …

Profound concerns that dipping ratings and staff cutbacks at WBEZ-FM (91.5) will impact Chicago Public Media's ongoing sponsorship of the Sun-Times. The deletion of too much local programming is killing the NPR outlet. Now more than ever, with items like Kevin Warren's Lakefront Folly threatening taxpayers, Chicago can't afford much more pared-down media. …

The WNBA missed a grand window by not scheduling a preseason game starring Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Last October's Hawkeyes-DePaul exhibition drew 55,646 to the legacied football field. Clark and the Fever open their two-game warmup slate vs. the Dallas Wings Friday night at Texas-Arlington's College Park Center. …

And Shaquille O'Neal, to Charles Barkley on a Turner post-game show about his Sunday habits: “I know what church you go to — 'Under The Covers Baptist.'”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Wednesday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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