This weekend, at the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby - that’s one hundred and forty-five, that’s “something that’s been happening since ten years after the Civil War ended”, something happened that’s never happened. The race was run, a horse crossed the finish line first, was declared the winner...
... and then a flag was thrown.
First-line-crosser and apparent winner Maximum Security’s victory was challenged by multiple riders who claimed that he’d swung wide on the final turn, bumping their horses and impeding them from victory. An official objection was raised, and a 22-minute delay ensued before Maximum Security was disqualified, elevating second-place finisher and 65-to-1 longshot Country House to a shocking and tainted-in-the-eyes-of-some Derby victory.
Now, I’m not experienced enough a horse-racing writer to tell you exactly the merits or reasoning behind the call — smarter people than I have suggested that the disqualified horse’s actions nearly caused a pileup that could’ve been disastrous, far worse for the sport than the currently-roiling minor controversy.
What I want to talk about here is an experience in sports that you simply can’t recreate, one of the weirdest, most fascinating crowd environments possible. I was in the stands on Saturday, sitting next to this incredibly handsome-sounding writer working on a feature for the SBNation mainpage.
The lead-up to the main event is manufactured, stage-managed and tightly choreographed enthusiasm at its best. A whole lot of pomp, pageantry and tradition shuffled together with a weight-room pump-up playlist; My Old Kentucky Home sandwiched between Lose Yourself and In The Air Tonight. The crowd noise builds to the same roaring crescendo that you’d expect from any huge event — football, fighting, whatever. This is an experience you can muster, a feeling you can create.
There is nothing in sports like the sound of an entire stadium that has no idea what the f**k is happening.
When the Churchill Downs public address announcer abruptly called “HOLD ALL TICKETS, HOLD ALL TICKETS, THERE IS AN OFFICIAL OBJECTION”, that predictable roar morphed into twenty-two minutes of bewildered buzzing.
Maybe you’ve experienced this personally before. Maybe you were there when a late flag was thrown in overtime in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl between Miami and Ohio State. Maybe it was something like Central Michigan’s extra play to beat Oklahoma State in 2016, or the Duke-Miami fiasco a few years ago. Maybe it was when officials erroneously put one second back on the clock in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game, wrongly handing Texas a tainted win, tearing the space-time continuum and launching us all into this alternate-timeline hellworld where Prince is dead, a senile barn animal is President, and the Cincinnati Bearcats did not beat Alabama for the first of their many national championships.
When that happens, there’s no way to describe how weird it is. 150,000-plus people in a stadium, disconnected from live commentary, texting people at home wondering what the hell is going on right now!?, snippets of hearsay information coming in via text from viewers at home, capped by the greatest sound in sports, an entire massive crowd making a “what-the-f**k” roar all at once when the decision was announced.
I’m here to argue for it. Some people say officials should stay out of it; I say that’s ridiculous. Sure, bad calls happen, but good ones too — and my soapbox is that there’s no kind of drama quite like being told what you think you saw was something entirely different. There is nothing like hearing a stadium erupt in sheer indignant rage or mirthful spite. It is a feeling you cannot manufacture and it’s one of the truest joys in sports. Thank you for coming to my TEDTalk.
Now, wait a second, Mr. Cookbook, you might ask, did you just write this so that you could extract more dubious content from the Kentucky Derby, and also post that link to your friend Scott’s piece-”
My HANDSOME friend-
-is that all this is?
No. This is more a chance for me to say, rules are rules, let the officials do their job, controversy is fun, but above all else-
The spot was good.
Please share below the greatest WTF moments you’ve had as spectators.
Also click that link or Ryan Nanni’ll have my friend’s knees.