Jim O'Donnell: Rich Strike's Kentucky Derby win can produce only laughter from the bunker
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.
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?
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• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.