O'Donnell: Kentucky Derby 145 proves it's not 'a game for little boys in short pants'

THE LATE PHIL GEORGEFF REMAINS the greatest and most theatrical announcer in the history of American horse racing.

In the course of calling 96,131 races, the Bulgarian-American matinee idol encoded three immutable maxims.

In ascending order, they were: “Don't plunge.” “You can't dance every dance.”

And No. 1 with a bankroll: “This isn't a game for little boys in short pants.”

No man or woman in the stewards room at Churchill Downs last Saturday was wearing short pants when the on-track winner of the Kentucky Derby was taken down for an in-race infraction.

It was a first in the 145-year history of the race.

And, the decision of the stewards was courageous and correct.

At NBC's main broadcast perch, the triumvirate of Mike Tirico, Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss did nothing but hedge during the 22-minute review.

Bailey — the son of a Texas dentist and a marvelous racing mind — flopped between “letter of the law” vs. “the best horse (Maximum Security) won.”

That's like saying Kyle Busch or Danica Patrick should never be given a ticket on an interstate, unless the trooper is following “the letter of the law.”

Bill Mott — the trainer of eventual winner Country House — said it best to the TV nation during the long wait: “If this was a maiden claimer on a weekday, the winner comes down.”

And come down he did.

In the wake of that decision, mainstream American sports media tripped over itself repeatedly trying to explain a relatively simple nuance of an enormously complex game.

The biggest nuance was the potential harm to the Kentucky blue bloods and their worldwide associates who make hundreds of millions annually selling horses and dreams that disappear in a blink to extraordinarily gullible rich marks.

That's one reason why it's curious that a key question about KD 145's result has never been answered:

To what extent was Bill Carstanjen — the golden CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated — involved in contact with the stewards before the history-altering reordering was posted?

Carstanjen couldn't be reached for comment. Nor could any of his primary underlings at CDI.

But one very wise man who offered an opinion was Northwest suburbanite Frank Calabrese, the most prolific winning owner in the history of Arlington Park. He's also long held a significant chunk of Churchill stock and has an open line to Carstanjen.

Said Calabrese: “There's no way they weren't letting Carstanjen know what was happening. I'm not saying (it was) right or wrong. But it was too big a decision not to let the big boss in on. That race means way too much to the whole game.”

So, just another day at the races — in a game that decidedly isn't for little boys in short pants.

LAST WEEK THE COLUMN QUESTION WAS: What was the walk-up song of Cubs catcher Tom Lundstedt during his one full season (1974) with the Cubs?

That inquiry stemmed from the release of Rick Kaempfer's excellent new book “EveryCubEver” (Eckhartz Press, $25), which lists the 2,186 who have played for the ballclub since 1871 along with select minutiae about each.

The clue was: “Not the most energizing song in the solar system.”

The most-popular wrong answer was “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. (“Ground Control to Major Tom.”)

Among the more esoteric answers was “The Original Theme From Monday Night Football.” “Lazy Moon” by Harry Nilsson completed that exacta.

Key jumpoff juncture was deducing whether “solar system” referred to “sun,” “space and universe” or something even more cosmic.

“Sun” was correct. From there, exactly three winners went on to correctly adduce “Sunshine On My Shoulders” by John Denver.

The trio — all of whom will receive a copy of “EveryCubEver” courtesy of Kaempfer — are Cindy Menelle of Mount Prospect, Brian DeValk of Palatine and Kevin Kelley of Arlington Heights.

As for Kaempfer, he received his own singular award:

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts called and had the energizing author and Eckhartz co-publisher Dave Stern sit with him at Monday night's Cubs-Marlins game.

STREET-BEATIN': Of course “Jeopardy!” producers can't project phenoms, but interrupting the remarkable run of James Holzhauer for the annual two-week Teachers Tournament is like a U2 concert being stopped before “Pride” for a droning happy-face message from Betsy DeVos. ... Speaking of Holzhauer, the Naperville North grad actually missed a “J!”-style question during an appearance Tuesday on MLB Network's “MLB Now.” The answer was “One-time Cubs lefty named for the 26th president,” the question was “Who is Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt Lilly III,” and anyone outside the Lilly family and birth registrar who could get that one deserves sleepover privileges in Theo Epstein's “Casablanca” room. … NBA insiders report Neil Funk will be calling Bulls home games only next season; Funk, 72, has carried on professionally since being assigned the impossible task of replacing the gold-standard Jim Durham following a horrid — and correctable — ego breakdown between Bulls management and J.D.'s agent back in 1991. … Also around Los Toros, 25 years ago this summer, Jerry Reinsdorf was calling Horace Grant “a liar” and Grant was calling Jerry Krause “a liar” after the fleet-winged forward bolted the Michael Jordan-less Bulls for Orlando. So, happy days aside, auld dissonant separation will be forgotten next Tuesday when Grant represents the NBA mouseketeers at the 2019 draft lottery (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.). … A spokesman for the South Carolina Highway Patrol informed that the woman driving the car in which Chet Coppock was fatally injured has been ticketed for “driving too fast for conditions” and that the investigation is “closed.”… The Cubs' upstreaming Marquee Network will be getting no startup help from the Bears; A source familiar with the dynamic is saying that no existing inventory is available because K-Mack and the Monsters are in the second year of a multiyear deal for preseason games and current “shoulder programming” with Fox/WFLD-Channel 32. … Lindsey Willhite notes that Game 6 of the home-iced Wolves-Iowa Calder Cup Central Division Finals will be telecast on WCIU-26.2 (“The U Too”) at 7 p.m. Monday; Jason Shaver and Billy Gardner will also call Game 7 if necessary (Wednesday, 7 p.m.). … And asked if Tony Romo — who is a super-Vegan 10,000-1 to win this weekend's AT&T Byron Nelson from Trinity Forest (WBBM-Channel 2, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) — will be working as a network golf commentator anytime soon, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus niblicked, “Ah, I think we'll just keep him as the best NFL analyst there is for now.”

Flavien Prat hugs Country House after winning the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. Associated Press
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