“21st Century Journalism”: A Vegas Prelude to The 136th Kentucky Derby

Sam's Town smells like a couch that has a long forgotten cheeseburger or two lost in the cushiony abyss; but the annual Derby seminar was informative, nonetheless.

They call the Kentucky Derby The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports. But for any horse betting novice such as myself; I had to eat, sleep, and breath horse racing for nearly a week just to make sense of it all. Crash course. Less talk, more listening. And with enough $2.00 Mint Juleps going around the Golden Nugget to alter the outcome of the next three World Series of Poker tournaments, the odds that I would wake up the Sunday after The Derby in my own bed without a.) a headache b.) anything unsavory written or drawn in Sharpie on my forehead c.) and/or any cigarette butts in my mouth, were not favorable.

While I didn’t win (surprise, surprise), I still came away satisfied with my selection and more importantly, the effort itself.

In fact, if you are ever in Vegas for Derby weekend, know little to nothing about horse racing, yet determined to bet on the race itself, do yourself a favor and attend one of the free seminars offered throughout Vegas (e.g.: The Wynn, The Plaza, Sam’s Town).

I chose to attend the Sam’s Town seminar, along with seemingly every other Billy, Dickie, Dirty Harry and Mullet Mike within a 25 mile radius of Sin City. Industry standard handicappers like Professor Gordon Jones (a favorite of Al Michaels), John Kelly, Patrick McQuiggan and Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman spent a solid hour analyzing each and every horse in the field.

The sterling four-man panel at the Sam's Town Derby seminar.

I came in exercising caution, however, with anticipation of a catch involved. I know quirky journalists in this town who attend “career interest seminars” (a.k.a.: Pyramid Schemes), posing as one of the pigeons, for the sheer purpose of cheap entertainment; but even they assured me this was legit.

“What you have to keep an eye out for is your fellow spectators,” one journalist told me. “For reasons I will never comprehend, for this town anyways, horseracing spectacles and the local buzz that comes with it can amplify with such efficiency that you’ll see guys who live under bridges or share IHOP dumpsters-guys who don’t even own calendars or watches mind you-somehow detecting that very buzz, limp over to the casino and drop the last dollar they own on a horse.

The spectators.

“Much like yourself, I attended one my rookie year in Vegas and was buttonholed by a guy who claimed he too was a journalist. As you know, journalists come in all shapes, forms, and smells-so who was I to dismiss him as a common civilian? He did have a clip board. Anyways, we got to talking. A little eccentric, but again, most journalists over 50 are. Once a sort of mutual, professional trust was developed he tried to convince me that his sources told him PETA had infiltrated at least 17 interns who were masquerading as common infield partygoers and that they were indeed going to rush the track out in front of the home stretch in protest of the event.”

“Where did these so-called ‘sources’ come from?” I asked.

“He called it the underground wire,” he laughed. “As if I knew what the heck that was. Then he has the audacity to say, deadpanned, ‘This is 21st Century Journalism, man. You can believe me.’”

He continued on.

“Admittedly, I was still wide-eyed enough to at the time. So I rush to make a few calls, which proved to be detrimental because I ended up sponging just 10% of the needed information to compete on Saturday.

“I should have known better when I saw him dripping Tapatio sauce into his double Cape-Codder.”

The Nugget on Derby Saturday.

Fast forward to Saturday, where I decided to become a witness to history at the World Famous Golden Nugget of all places. I showed up with a full page of notes on each horse obtained from attending the seminar.

While eagerly waiting for the race to begin, I must’ve cordially sought after twenty or so sports booking patrons for some last minute Derby handicapping insight. Call it note-comparison. Here were my favorite half-baked wagering objectives…

Sample #1

5 Day: Whose it gonna be?

Gambler: No. 19

5 Day: Let’s see (checking sheet), 50-1 odds for Homeboykris. Well with the slop they say the field has leveled out quite a bit. And Mine That Bird won last year against the same odds.

Gambler: I don’t know Moonshine when it comes to horse racing. I just heard that “Hey Nineteen” song by Steely Dan on the way over here and considered it a sign from God.

5 Day: Great song. Fair enough.

Sample #2

5 Day: And the verdict is?

Gambler: I went with Mission Impazible.

5 Day: You liked the tv show growing up?

Gambler: No it reminds me of a particular status quo at home right now.

5 Day: Enlighten me.

Gambler: See I’m right smack in the middle of an old fashioned sleeping on the couch slump and my old lady says the only way I’m getting back into the waterbed any time soon is by buying her a dishwasher. Well I gotta win big today in order for that to happen.

5 Day: If you don’t mind, let me guess, you’re in this predicament in the first place because you joked to her that you already had a dishwasher? Then she said, “What’s that supposed to mean?” And the rest is history.

Gambler: No, no. I complained about eating them boxed mashed potatoes for supper two nights in a row.

The Golden Nugget was packed like Circus Clowns in a Slugbug during the race...

Sample #3

One zesty Derby fan told me she individually put all 20 names on folded up post-its in a hat and had her neighbor, Tammy, draw three names for winner, place, and show, respectively.

5 Day: Why have your neighbor draw?

Gambler: I would’ve peaked, and my Knight and Shining Armor doesn’t like to read.

Sample #4

5 Day: Who did you bet on?

Gambler: No. 20

5 Day: Sidney’s Candy, right? You just decide to bet safely with one of the favorites?

Gambler: No, my old lady wears a size 20. Ha, ha, haaaaaa!

Sample #5

5 Day: Who ya got?

Gambler: Dean’s Kitten because my wife’s maiden name is Dean.

5 Day: That’s cool. And do you guys have any cats?

Gambler: No but I call my mistress Kitty-Kat all the time. Now that’s a double-yer-pleasure-double-yer-trouble if I ever saw one right there! (Followed by a mixture of laughs, coughs and wheezing.)

...as opposed to just minutes after the race.

Sample #6

5 Day: So who did you go with?

Gambler: Conveyance.

5 Day: (thinking) Surprise me.

Gambler: Reminds me of my second divorce. I made out like a bandit; got both coolers, both dogs, the dryer, the hot tub that works and the baby sitter (followed by an elbow poke and a suggestive look).

5 Day: Was…she…legal?

Gambler: Hah! You new here?!

And to think I chose Ice Box (finished 2nd or Place) to take home the Roses because it reminded me of the uncommon term my late Grandma always used in referring to the refrigerator. What was I thinking?

$5-A-Day Running Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 33 @ $170

Overall balance versus house: -$75

Hanging and seeking answers on the 2010 Derby with retired stallion "Archie" in New England.