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Grip on Sports: When it comes to picking winners, you win some and you lose a lot more

Mike Smith rides Justify to victory during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs on Saturday in Louisville, Ky. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)
Mike Smith rides Justify to victory during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs on Saturday in Louisville, Ky. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There were a couple of horse races yesterday, one actual, the other rhetorical. Picking winners was hard. Read on.

••••••••••

• The real horse race occurred in Louisville, Kentucky. The 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. That’s 12 dozen for those of you who like numerical precision and symmetry.

When the first Kentucky Derby was run, Ulysses S. Grant was president. You know, the Civil War hero. Times have changed.

In the 144 times the horses have competed in the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” it has never rained as much on Derby day as it did yesterday.

Yet look at the picture of the winner. Justify is as clean as a baby’s forehead after bath time. Where’s the mud?

Well, when you are out front the entire trip, no one is kicking mud in your face. Literally.

Mike Smith, the ancient jockey who guided Justify to the win, wore five or six pair of goggles just in case. He probably put at least four back in the drawer afterward, clean and shiny. That’s how much his horse dominated. For which I am thankful, as the undefeated Santa Anita Derby winner was my pre-race choice.

But why not? 

The best television show ever set in Kentucky was called “Justified,” so that seemed sort of omen-like. (By the way, if you haven’t ever watched the Timothy Olyphant vehicle, binge it some weekend.) And the horse is nicknamed Big Red, which was my nickname back when my hair was still that color and my waistline was smaller than it is now. (No, wait. That was the nickname I wanted. I was actually called Guppy or something.)

It was hard to not pick My Boy Jack because, as you probably know, I have a son named Jack. But such overt heartstring-plucking – you think there was more money than usual on the fifth-place finisher just because of that, right? – is too transparent for me.

So Justify it was. And it felt good to actually pick a winner.

• See, just before Justify took off in the slop they call a racetrack in Kentucky, the Twitter machine informed me Brandon Williams had decided to stick with Arizona.

The point guard, who reopened his recruitment process after the Wildcats were hit hard by the FBI basketball probe, decided it was OK for UA to have a former assistant under indictment and all that it entails. 

His choice surprised me a bit because, during my research concerning the Southern California high school star, his desire to win came up over and over. Put him in the Gonzaga lineup next year, my thought process went, and the Zags were going to be easily the best team on the West Coast. Add him to Arizona’s and the Wildcats will be good, but may not even be a favorite to make the tournament. They certainly won’t be the Pac-12 favorite.

But in the muddy world that is college hoops recruiting, you win some – and lose often.

•••

WSU: It hasn’t been a great home weekend for the baseball team, as Oregon State pounded the Cougars for a second consecutive day. Theo Lawson has the coverage and there is more from Oregon. … Women’s basketball coach Kamie Ethridge announced her first two recruits. … A Cougar leads after the first day of the Pac-12 heptathlon championship. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Arizona is happy with Williams' decision. … The Pac-12 will be playing a 20-game conference basketball schedule soon. … Utah is looking for the perfect quarterback.

Gonzaga: Williams’ choice prompted this story from Jim Meehan. … The baseball team topped host USD once again.

Bloomsday: The race may be over by the time you read this, but we need to give you the opportunity to read the previews from Dave Nichols, on the women’s race, and Jim Allen, on the women wheelchair favorite.

Chiefs: We somehow missed the opener of the WHL title series, but we are not missing game two. Everett gave up a three-goal lead and lost 4-3 in overtime. The series with Swift Current is tied at one.

Preps: After a near-perfect Saturday, we can pass along roundups from baseball, soccer and softball

Mariners: With Shohei Otani in town, the idea of a two-way player in the bigs is a reality. Just as it was at the college level when Marco Gonzales was at Gonzaga. John Blanchette covers that ground and more with this column from Safeco on Gonzales. … The M’s rallied more than once last night and finally won, 9-8, in 11 innings. Edwin Diaz had a chance to close it out but gave up a two-out, two-strike, two-run tying home run to Justin Upton in the ninth. … Otani will face off against Felix Hernandez today. … Dee Gordon was not in the lineup yesterday. He rested.

Seahawks: Former Washington tight end Will Dissly seems to be catching on the Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. … There is a new quarterback in rookie camp.

Sounders: Columbus played most of the match with just 10. And yet Seattle could muster no more than a scoreless draw. No wonder the CenturyLink crowd booed lustily when it was over.

•••        

• My wife Kim can’t watch horse racing anymore. She’s too worried one will be hurt. So I watch and if the race is injury-free, I let her know. That way she can watch the replay with me if she wants. That is No. 492 in my rules for a stress-free marriage. Until later … 


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