Nate Waggenspack: Horse racing a unique corner of the sports world

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Every year 20 or so, horses gather at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and run 1.25 miles in just more than two minutes as part of one of the most strangely popular sporting events in the United States.

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Nate Waggenspack

The Kentucky Derby is one of America’s oldest sports traditions, with 2014’s race the 140th running. It’s also one of the rare sporting events that attracts followers from well outside the main circle of fans each year — on a similar level to the Super Bowl or the Masters golf tournament — people who don’t follow horse racing or horse breeding at all for the rest of the year tune in to watch the ponies run at Churchill Downs.

The power those animals put on display tearing around the track is impressive to watch, no matter your background or expertise.

Living in Moffat County, I’ve learned more about horses in a couple years than I ever could’ve learned in Montgomery County, Ohio (where I grew up), in a lifetime. Between the Sombrero Ranch and its annual horse drive, speaking with 4-H youth about showing horses at the Moffat County Fair and watching all the rodeo events covering horses, I’ve seen them in so many different, interesting capacities.

But I sometimes find myself wishing it were easier to catch horse races in Northwest Colorado. Soon after moving to Craig, I wrote what still is one of my favorite stories, about a traveling horse racing circuit that came to the Moffat County Fairgrounds for three weeks each summer.

From the late 1960s through the ’80s, Craig had races to enjoy and bet on right in its backyard. Watching the splendor of the Kentucky Derby on TV is cool, but watching a race in person is an experience on a totally different level.

While still in Ohio, I’d visit the Keeneland horse track in Lexington, Kentucky, with family, and we’d spend the day putting down meaningless $2 bets on races using extremely limited knowledge. It never mattered that 90 percent of what I put money on was a loser, or that I even screwed up a couple bets, not understanding what they meant. Hopping up and screaming for your horse’s goofy name after they come out of the gate is one of the greatest ways to have fun in all of sports.

When the Kentucky Derby starts Saturday afternoon, I’ll know next to nothing about the horses and jockeys involved, but I’ll be cheering for somebody and having fun watching. Maybe a friendly $2 bet will hit this year and make 2014 one to remember.

Contact Nate Waggenspack at 970-875-1795 or nwaggen

spack@CraigDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CDP_Sports.

Contact Nate Waggenspack at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CDP_Sports .

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