The End of Noble Instincts: A Different Kentucky Derby

The 145th renewal of The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports will undoubtedly have a different feel than occurrences of past runnings.

Updated: May 2, 2019 • 11:55 AM ET

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Bob Costas no longer announcing is just one change the Kentucky Derby will see this year.

One hundred forty-five will feel different.

A century from now, will historians look back and remember that this was the hinge point? Where the horse racing fulcrum could have swung one way or another?

Horse racing surely needs a win, and what better way to do that than to have a stupendous first Saturday in May? You want pomp and circumstance? How about a moment where hallowed ground produces another set of thrilling victories that occur in under two minutes?

But, hang on a minute; let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The 145th Kentucky Derby will be different; it has to be.

Lest we forget, horse racing is under siege. Already in 2019, there has been chicanery, misdirection and challenges hoard from beyond the turnstiles.

Derby Day is different this time around, because certain sectors of the public, fueled by a liberal media, are angry — death at the racetrack can do that. To quote Christopher Reeve’s character from “The Remains of the Day,” “The days when you could act out of your noble instincts are over.”

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Realpolitik, the politics of reality, is here my friends; and although there’s no Bismarck to guide us, the moment has arrived like an ill-timed guest.

We can change; it is in us, but the clock is ticking. Fiefdoms are under duress, and it’s going to take more than just softer whips and fewer doses of Lasix to satisfy those in the halls of government and the remedial poster board artists this time.

Perhaps, it’s telling. I’m reminded of who isn’t going to be at the Derby this year — Bob Costas.

NBC Sports showed Costas the door right before the Super Bowl, but not for offering critiques concerning racing. Instead, it was his devotion to offering regular scathing reviews of the attempts by the NFL to cover up the concussion scandals.

I’m not sure why Costas never took on horse racing. He once called the Derby a “slice of Americana.” Costas seemed to think it was quaint — all those ladies in hats and revelers in the infield on a drunken escapade — never the gonzo journalist like Hunter S. Thompson pointing out the depravity. Instead, Costas seemed to think it was just a splendid party with some horses going around an oval in the background.

You would have thought that with his record on calling out Major League Baseball and its drug scandals during the ‘80s and ‘90s, Costas would have been a critical voice.

I watched almost all of Costas’ Triple Crown broadcasts over the past 18 years, and they were fairly innocuous. From the start of his career in the late ‘70s, he always memorialized horse racing and never seemed to rock the boat, whether he was covering Secretariat romping during retirement or interviewing Triple Crown race callers.

To me, Costas was a well-meaning guest of the Triple Crown, and he left his teeth at home. Maybe when it came to horse racing, he knew he was limited. Reading the teleprompter was just easier.

I think he symbolized the casual fan, someone who gets a card on Saturday morning, needs the bouncing ball to know the words to “My Old Kentucky Home,” or winces at the first sip of a mint julep. Costas was what my grandfather called a “Chree-ster,” you know, someone who attends church only on Christmas and Easter.

His leaving is a signal. It’s time to get serious horse racing community; time to take the reins and make some important decisions. This is more than just about the Triple Crown — a crucible is upon us.

Out with the amateurs. If we leave it to them, we’re doomed. We need to take back our sport and organize, while not ignoring the chance to listen.

Even though we won’t have Costas and his smug signature lead-in on Saturday, what is certain is that NBC will turn in another lackluster broadcast. They’ll make the Kentucky Derby 2-D, following the same stories they did last year, and the year before, and the...

Here’s a tip, horse racing fans: stream the simulcast. At least there, you can follow the live odds. NBC only posts them once every few hours.

But this year isn’t about a beleaguered NBC broadcast sans Costas and what the amateurs are going to do. The central question for the industry is: what are you going to implement, professionals?

This year, 145 will be different.