Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Human Interest Angle

Like the Olympics, NBC's (and the media in general) coverage of the Derby tries its best to draw in as many non-hardcore racing fans as possible. To accomplish this, they look for human interest stories to push. Two years ago it was Smarty Jones, who nearly died as a 2 year old after smashing his head on a starting gate. Last year it was Afleet Alex, who was connected to a little girl with cancer who started a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research and who passed away 9 months before the Derby.

Bro Derek: will he be a "10" on Saturday?

This year the human interest story will be Brother Derek, whose trainer, Dan Hendricks, was paralyzed from the waist down 2 years ago in a motorcycle accident. There is an excellent article on his situation here, which is less sugar coated than most of the other coverage you will see this week. Additionally, Brother Derek's jockey, soon to be hall of famer Alex Solis, was thrown from a horse and broke his back only 2 weeks after Hendricks' accident. He was out for 7 months but now is back riding well and in search of his first Derby victory. So Brother Derek will not only be the human interest story but also one of the favorites if not the outright favorite, as he is 4 for 4 this year coming out of the California circuit.

Hendricks with Brother Derek

The secondary human interest story you will hear this week will be about Barbaro trainer Michael Matz, who in 1989 survived a plane crash in Iowa that killed 112 people. He aslo managed to pull 4 children out of the wreckage and save their lives. After that experience he probably won't be feeling too much pressure on Derby Day.

My handicapping of the Derby has absolutely nothing to do with human interest, but interestingly, Smarty Jones was my horse in 2004, and I won big with him. Afleet Alex was my horse last year, and proved my post race analysis that the Derby was a joke (thanks to Biancone running no-hoper speedball Spanish Chestnut for the glorification of his owner's massive ego, while burning out the speed horses and stalkers with the fastest fractions in Debry history) and that he was the best horse by coming back and winning The Preakness in the most amazing fashion you will ever see and then romping in The Belmont.

At this point I still kind of like Brother Derek, but it looks like he will be the favorite and at anything less than 5-1 or 4-1 he has too many unanswered questions for me (raced from the front in small fields with perfect trips and no traffic, which there will be a boatload of on Saturday, and he definitely won't be on the front) and I will probably pass and look for some better value elsewhere.

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