On the first Saturday in May, the “longest two minutes in sports” takes place at Churchill Downs. This May 6th will be the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Truly, there is nothing quite like it in the racing world, as it has evolved into the premier race of the year. Whether you love the beauty and power of the magnificent horses in the field, the splendor and vibrancy of Southern charm, the signature feature of colorful hats and mint juleps or the prospect of choosing the winner, there is something for everyone. In addition, the Barnstable Brown Gala is a charity event that in the last 10 years has donated $13 million to the University of Kentucky's Barnstable Brown Diabetes and Obesity Center.
For a horse to get to the top 20 contenders, it’s a long and strenuous road. Most all have won a derby somewhere along the way or other prominent race. Some have been undefeated and never lost a race; others have done poorly, suddenly rising like a phoenix out of the pyre. As the race looms closer and closer, the leadership board is constantly changing and horses create their odds. Experts and racing pundits spout their words of wisdom based on formulas, angles, odds and statistics. Some of the experts really do seem to possess the algorithm for success and have a proven track record for calling the winners. Some are talented at identifying the pretenders, the ones who are destined to struggle to keep up. Regardless of all the strategic commotion, there is one basic truth and that is that the race is always unpredictable. The leaders in the field with the most points have the odds in their favor of course, but it’s the dark horse that keeps everyone on their toes. The horse who overcomes such great odds that it brings the house down in buckets of cash. One such nondescript bay pulled off this monumental upset in 2009 when Mine that Bird overcame odds of 50 to 1 to win the Kentucky Derby. Not only did he win the first race at Churchill Downs, but he nearly became a Triple Crown winner, coming in second place at Preakness Stakes and third at Belmont Stakes. The unusual circumstances of his life, from his early failures to the long journey in the trailer from New Mexico to Kentucky, to his incredible win after having been last in the field became worthy of a movie, 50 to1, released in 2014.
Are there lessons to be learned for humans in all of this risky but lucrative business? We humans struggle to control as much as we possibly can in our lives. To do otherwise and drift along in a sea of nonchalance and passivity is anxiety provoking. But sometimes it is the things we know we cannot control that offer the biggest attractions. The thrill of competition and victory, whether in sports, the stock market, in careers or relationships, propels us forward and gives us the perseverance, the stamina and the resolve to put forth our best, much like a field of racing horses. In the starting gate, the competing horse is a culmination of thoughtful breeding, inherent talents, excellent training and above all, the spirit to win. The unpredictability of it all lays down a perfectly equal playing field. The same is true for us and we’ve all heard the stories of how some have overcome the most drastic odds for achievement or success or even survival. So when that monster anxiety grabs you and you start to fret over your lack of control, take a deep breath and learn to relish the unpredictable moments, developments and outcomes in life. They might just bring a smile to your face.