Saturday, sports bettors joined political pundits as they bothwrung out the significance of the one -year anniversary ofPresident Bush’s pronouncement of victory. The pundits debatedwhether Bush’s announcement would hurt his chances of winningreelection, while the bettors interpreted current events to try todivine which horse would win the 130th Kentucky Derby.
What do current events have to do with horse racing, youask?
More than you might think.
May 8, 1915. The day after Germany sank the Lusitaniaoceanliner, killing 123 U.S. citizens and hundreds of others, asAmerica mourned a filly named Regret won the 41st KentuckyDerby.
May 11, 1918. Little over a year after declaring war on Germany,U.S. forces helped turn the tide against the Germans as a strongthree-year old named Exterminator galloped to victory in the 44thKentucky Derby.
May 2, 1942. With U.S. forces surrendering by the thousands inthe South Pacific and the government struggling to stem Germanadvances in Europe, Shut Out took the rose garland in the 68thDerby.
May 6, 1944. In utter secrecy, as President Roosevelt and toplevel military aides thought over the final details of the D-Dayinvasion, Pensive took the 70th derby by four lengths.
May 4, 1991. Two months after the U.N. imposed resolutions onIraq following the Gulf War, and Halliburton and other U.S.contractors rushed in to get the oil pumping again, Strike the Goldeked out a victory in the 117th Derby.
Even a novice gambler who has imbibed a few mint juleps can tellthat the Derby winner’s name and the war standing of the UnitedStates are intertwined.
Knowing this, one entrant jumped out from Saturday’s field atthe 130th Kentucky Derby – Imperialism at 10-1 odds.
Aside from being able to say, “I’m betting on Imperialism towin,” based on the horse name-war status correlation Imperialismseemed a sure thing to win.
As imperialism reared its ugly head throughout the Middle East,a two-minute run over a manicured track in Kentucky should havebeen a cake walk.
10-1 odds? Please.
If the war in Iraq has taught us anything, its that imperialismcan overcome odds much bigger than 10-1.
The fact that Imperialism was three years old – almost exactlyas old as America’s new age of imperialism – quashed anyreservations I had about picking a horse based on the name-warstatus correlation (or my cynical appraisal of Americanintentions). Imperialism hadn’t been this much of a lock since theearly days of Roman Empire.
So, Saturday, with visions of my imminent wealth flowing throughmy head I watched with baited breath as Imperialism sauntered intothe starting gate.
I tried to figure out whether it was good or bad when theannouncers said the track conditions were “sloppy” for the firsttime in ten years. On the one hand, as seen in Iraq, imperialism isdefinitely sloppy, but on the other an imperialized world is basedon order at any cost.
I lost track of him as the horses merged but my hopes were stillhigh, knowing that, true to his name, Imperialism was likelybiting, kicking and doing anything else he could to take out thecompetition.
As the horses made the first turn the announcer relayed theirorder for the first time.
After ten horses, no Imperialism. The camera slowly panned tothe back of the field where Imperialism lagged in 17th place. Myhead fell.
Thanks to a strong finish Imperialism ended up showing in 3rdplace. Not bad, but not what I’d expected.
In addition to crushing my bid for instant wealth, Imperialism’sdefeat raised deeper and more troubling issues: Will U.S.imperialism fail in the Middle East? Is it possible Imperialismfailed because the United States is actually acting with goodintentions? And most importantly for bettors around the world, isthe horse name-war status predictor no longer true?
It usually takes years of study and debate to resolve suchimportant questions, but thanks to the wonder of the Triple Crown,we need look no further than May 15, when the Preakness Stakes willbe held at Pimlico Race Track.
Don’t count out Imperialism just yet.