If you don't already have a favorite horse in today's Kentucky Derby, give General Quarters a salute.
Actually, it's not so much the horse in this case as it is the guy behind the horse. General Quarters is owned, fed, groomed and lovingly attended by a 75-year-old grandfather who runs a one-man, shoestring operation in a sport dominated by millionaires and conglomerates.
Tom McCarthy, a retired Louisville-area school teacher, could never afford to devote much time and money to the sport he's followed most of his life. He purchased General Quarters -- the horse of his dreams -- for $20,000 just over a year ago. He's spent almost every second since preparing the horse for two minutes today at Churchill Downs. Along the way, McCarthy has declined offers to sell his horse for a handsome profit.
McCarthy told reporters this week that the chance to compete in the sport's most compelling race was more important than the money General Quarters' sale would have brought.
"At this point in my life, I don't need a lot of money," McCarthy said. "At my age, and being from Louisville, I'll probably never have another chance at the Kentucky Derby. You just don't sell a dream."
That's good enough for me. He's a 20-to-1 long shot, but how do you properly handicap a dream?
The Derby is nothing if not a study in human interest stories and even more interesting names. For instance:
* The favorite today is named I Want Revenge and is trained by a guy named Jeff Mullins. That's not Jeff Mullins, the former Duke basketball star. But Jeff the Blue Devil was from Kentucky.
* Clemson fans can cheer for Papa Clem, who ideally would have been named Papa Clem&Son.
* Until Clemson's basketball fortunes started to improve a few years back, Tigers fans would have been pulling for Join in the Dance.
* Summer Bird, at 50-1, is trained by Tom Ice. They've got the meteorological crowd cornered, come sleet or shine.
* Trainer Saeed bin Suroor has two entries, one by the name of Desert Party, who will be keeping an eye on Pioneerof the Nile.
* If the jockey's name means anything, watch out for Joe Bravo aboard Atomic Rain.
* For a shootout down the stretch, pull for Musket Man and Dunkirk to battle it out.
* But after the humans go home, the horses are all ears when Advice has something to say. After which, Chocolate Candy doles out dessert to everyone.
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