Tim Layden ’78 is one of the best Eph sportswriters, and he writes this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story on the Kentucky Derby:0511_mid-1

They think they know how to win the Kentucky Derby — the sheikhs and financiers, the heirs and entrepreneurs. They think they know the path to the place where the roses lie. And then last Saturday, on a gray, damp afternoon at Churchill Downs, they were reminded again of what the Derby teaches best and without remorse: The race decides, and the rest is just a foolish stab at steering fate.

A hopeless outsider named Mine That Bird took the 135th Derby at odds of 50-1, the second-longest shot to win in the history of the race. He won because 25 years ago one cowboy saved another from getting his ass whipped in a bar fight and they became friends. He won because a workaday Canadian horseman bought him at a yearling sale for half the cost of a Mini Cooper, paid a veterinarian to excise his testicles and won four races before selling him for the price of a nice yacht. He won because a trainer who had a broken right leg and a 1-for-32 record in starts at his home track in New Mexico this season loaded him into a horse van and drove him 1,466 miles leftfooted to race the blue bloods in their backyard.

Most of all, he won because a sweet, 42-year-old Cajun jockey, who misses his deceased mom and dad so much it makes him weep, rode Mine That Bird with breathtaking fearlessness. Under the most enervating pressure in racing, Calvin Borel allowed his horse to drop from the gate to last place in the 19-horse field, nearly 30 lengths behind, so far back that his co-owner, Leonard Blach, said later, “I was just hoping we wouldn’t be last at the end.”

Go read the whole thing.

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