Jim O'Donnell: Rich Strike's Kentucky Derby win can produce only laughter from the bunker

  • Sonny Leon was at the helm for Rich Strike's winning of the 148th Kentucky Derby last week in Louisville, Ky.

    Sonny Leon was at the helm for Rich Strike's winning of the 148th Kentucky Derby last week in Louisville, Ky. Associated Press

Updated 5/11/2022 6:13 PM

LIKE GAMES ON A CARNIVAL MIDWAY, when American horse racing needs a favorable outcome, it can generate one.

That's what a peak NBC Sports audience of 19 million got to witness last Saturday when the hopeless longshot Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby.


The victory was to logic what Will Smith is to contemporary celebrity civility and decorum.

It left the foolers laughing and the foolish gasping.

Prerace suspicion was in the air.

As one Insouciant wrote: "Any non-insider who seriously bets the race is a stooge."

Moe, Larry, cheese!

NO GROUP LOVED IT more than the masters of Churchill Downs Inc., the Louisville-based axis best known for: 1) Producing obscene, soulless profits from its sprawling network of casinos; and 2) Steamrolling any "threshold" in its way.

The bunker mates at CDI were coming off three rough, diminishing Derbies. That included: A disqualification of an on-track winner in 2019, a pandemic-reduced runaround in September 2020 and the overnight demythologizing of past Derby god Bob Baffert in 2021.

Heading into the weekend, there was no question CDI needed something to spark new wonderment and awe over its aging May rosebud.

And -- how miraculously -- the Kentuckiana sales force of chance got it.

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HOW RICH STRIKE WON can be dissected until The Next Big Thing comes along, be it another White Sox winning streak, a key suspension during the NBA playoffs or even the supremely numbing prospect of The Preakness on May 21.

Very little discernible to the naked YouTube eye will indicate anything that doesn't appear legit, or all part of "racing luck."

Speed killed. Some of the most sophisticated jockeys on the planet were lulled into chasing a suicidal pace in the most heralded North American racing event on the annual calendar.

A modest 3-year-old colt, wearing No. 21 and starting out of the impossible Post 20 -- which is normally like starting across the Ohio River in New Albany -- waited until the last possible moment to unleash a devastating closing kick.

Voila -- instant Red Sea parting.

COMMITTED HORSEPLAYERS -- their species as diminished as stamp collectors -- know the mental drainage all too well.


Veteran Louisville TV news anchor Doug Proffitt summarized the spectacle in a Derby '22 post-mortem:

"The stunning longshot win for Kentucky-bred Rich Strike is seen as a victory for the sport of racing, trying to recapture some of the glory it once had."

Is that laughter from the bunker?

Or just the sound of a major favorable outcome from the carnival midway?

STREET-BEATIN': Tom Brady's 10-year, $375M contract to serve as Fox's No. 1 NFL analyst once he quits as a player underscores how desperate American TV networks are to out-glitz each other with "The League." No sportscaster is worth that kind of money and none have drawn extra viewers since Howard Cosell and Don Meredith were in full flight during the startup years of "Monday Night Football" on ABC. ...

How many puppet boxes does Jason Benetti have in his closet? The earnest play-by-player ditched much of his Borscht Belting during the White Sox-Red Sox premiere of NBC's "MLB Sunday Leadoff," clearly showing his adaptability in broadcasting to a national audience. Reportedly, only fans of the late Jackie Gayle were disappointed. ...

Speaking of Arlington Park, had Bunker Bill Carstanjen and KY crew opted to race there this summer, the track's initial blockbusting weekend would have included: Opening Day, Friday; Kentucky Derby Day, Saturday; and, Mother's Day, Sunday. (Mythic AP executive princess Jeanne Frederick long insisted that Million Room reservations for Mother's Day were harder to get than for Million Day.) ...

With Walmart heir Rob Walton expected to pay close to $5.5B for the Denver Broncos, the value of the Bears with a new stadium amid rampant inflation is expected to touch $7B-plus. Begging the Q.: When can a majority of the Next-Gens of the Halas-McCaskey clan take out a reverse mortgage on the team? ...

And untethered live mic line of the week, from CLE TV color man Rick Manning, after the painfully clear miscue of Sox RFer Gavin Sheets on a flyball Monday night: "Are you (bleeping) me?"

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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