Kentucky Derby's Tragedy and Triumph

Talking weekend sports with Will Leitch of Deadspin.com.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, thanks, Mark. It was a bittersweet day Saturday at Churchill Downs, a beautiful victory and a very tragic loss, all in two minutes. Bit Brown, the undefeated three-year-old colt, won the Kentucky Derby, but second runner-up, Eight Belles, had to be put down after a freak injury to her front legs. Here's Big Brown jockey, Kent Desormeaux, after the race.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Mr. KENT DESORMEAUX (Jockey, Big Brown): This horse, he showed you his heart and Eight Belles showed you her life for our enjoyment today and I am deeply sympathetic towards that team. I'm sorry for their loss.

MARTIN: Definitely a sad end to an otherwise exciting race. With us now for the highlights and the rest of the weekend sports wrap up is Will Leitch, editor of the sports blog Deadspin. Hey, Will.

Mr. WILL LEITCH (Editor, Deadspin): Hey, good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. So there was a lot of hype, a lot of buildup, to the Derby this year, the 134th Kentucky Derby, drawing the second-largest crowd in the race's history. Did Big Brown - he was the favorite. But did he meet all expectations Saturday?

Mr. LEITCH: Yeah. He actually probably exceeded them. (Unintelligible) by the end of that race, it really wasn't particularly close. I think if what happened to Eight Belles had not happened, I think you'd be hearing a lot of those - a lot more people would be talking about Big Brown as a potential Triple Crown thing right now, because - certainly the performance was dominant enough to show that. But yeah, when you're - when they put a horse down right on the track, that's going to kind of dominate the news a little bit.

MARTIN: So, let's talk a little bit about Big Brown and what's coming up for this horse. Preakness is in two weeks, and as you mentioned, Big Brown has a shot at the Triple Crown. Can you - what are the stakes involved in this race for this horse and his owner?

Mr. LEITCH: Well, the Preakness is - the owner has already gone on record saying the Preakness will be a more difficult race for him. But certainly, I mean, if you watch what happened in the Kentucky Derby, that was - I mean, there really was not really even that close. Like from - I guess, from - it's - I think it's been a very long time since someone actually won a - a horse actually won a race from that pull position.

But - so - but it's funny, too, because, you know, when you think about the double (unintelligible) again, Big Brown's going to have to win the Preakness for Big - for Eight Belles not to become like the next Barbaro type of thing. And it's weird because, when what happened to Barbaro happened, it became, you know, people - you would think it would've shed a little light on the fact that in horseracing, this kind of happens all the time...

MARTIN: Right.

Mr. LEITCH: And as tragic and awful as it is, it's really not a rare occurrence that, I think, maybe having now, having had this happen twice in three years, people maybe see that a little bit more. It's a terrible, sad thing, but this is hardly new in the world of horseracing.

PESCA: Or you know, the other side of that is the Triple Crown races attract a lot of attention from people who don't watch racing, and also a lot of attention from sports writers who don't cover racing.

And I've seen the countertrend, which is to say wow, with these two injuries, let's talk about how brutal racing is, and not really understanding what you said, that I think, on average, you know, a horse or two a day dies in the United States, and this - it was freak injury to occur in this particular race, but overall, it's not a freak injury.

Mr. LEITCH: Yeah, it's - the - it's - that's the thing, and it's - you know, you're right. Like, this is the - one of the three days a year where sports writers actually pay attention to horseracing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEITCH: And so when that - to have that happen, it sheds a lot - it doesn't actually shed any light on it at all, except it just makes people that - we all like to sit - no one likes to think of this happening all the time, but it's very, very regular, and it's sad.

No one's denying that it's sad, but they - it kind of - also kind of shows how maybe a little over-the-top the Barbaro stuff got a little bit. I mean, obviously it was sad to see Barbaro die, but I mean, this is - there - I don't know if that makes any - Barbaro any more or less a hero than all the other horses that have to go through this on a pretty regular basis.

MARTIN: Before we move on to the NBA, is there anything out there now - are there reports coming out, Will, about how she hurt her ankles, her front ankles? I mean, they're just saying "freak accident," but has anything else come out?

Mr. LEITCH: Ah, it's - they're still doing the - a lot of the reports on it, it does appear - it does not appear to be one of those types where - there's some debate whether it was broken actually during the race.

I think a couple of experts have said the stride was a little different towards - coming down the stretch, which is - that's actually probably the scariest part of it, to realize actually that she was probably in a lot of pain out and toward the end, but they haven't nailed down exactly what it was yet.

MARTIN: OK, let's move on over to the NBA. The New Orleans' Hornets were on fire, literally on fire, Saturday. Explain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEITCH: Yeah, they had a little bit of an issue with the "flaming hoop" that the mascot was going through. They had trouble extinguishing it and putting it together, so as it turned out, the game was started 17 minutes late, which was probably still not late enough for the Spurs, who, all of the sudden, looked extremely old really fast, against New Orleans. You know, I thought it kind of surprising.

If you remember when they - when the New Orleans' Saints were making their run the first year after, you know, after Katrina when they - when their team started playing really well, and they - they were like the story of the NFL. Like, everyone was so excited about the Saints, and they were America's team.

And they were - so they - but the Hornets, they don't seem to have quite gotten that, and - which is the thing because they're a better team than I think that Saints team was and they did very well, win the entire championship this year. So it's a very odd thing that - it seems like more people would be getting into the Hornets. That's a pretty exciting team.

MARTIN: They need you, too, and Green Day, to write a song for them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And they need not to play - how many games did they play at Oklahoma this year?

Mr. LEITCH: In Oklahoma, they didn't play any games.

PESCA: Oh, this was all in New Orleans (unintelligible).

Mr. LEITCH: It was all in New Orleans teams, so it was this (unintelligible) because I always kind of enjoyed when they were called the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets...

PESCA: Yeah, the NOC...

Mr. LEITCH: You could call them "nooch (ph)."

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Nooch!

MARTIN: Hey, let's talk about the Celtics. Kevin Garnett had a good game, huh?

Mr. LEITCH: Ah, yes, certainly the Celtics' fans had to have been pretty scared going into that game seven yesterday. They were (unintelligible) they were expected to sweep that series rather easily, and Atlanta, Atlanta's a team that I think you'll have to look out for in the next couple of years. But definitely, I - any fear that Boston fans had going in to that game seven yesterday got eliminated pretty fast.

The Celtics were not messing around yesterday, and it'll be interesting, though, because I - it really kind of showed how there are real gaps in that team. There - as dominant as they've been in the regular season, a young, fast, energetic team can cause them a lot of trouble. Fortunately for them, I'm not sure Cleveland - they're part of the next (unintelligible), is necessarily that team, but - so Boston against New Orleans in the NBA finals is a pretty scary notion for Boston after watching that Atlantic City series.

MARTIN: So, let's talk about the Lakers. Kobe Bryant...

Mr. LEITCH:

MARTIN: Walking around, talking about how he's the MVP, huh?

Mr. LEITCH: Yeah, it appears that he actually did make it - that they haven't officially announced it yet, but inevitably, some guy in the NBA office let it out to get more hype - and what Kobe needs is more press.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Yeah, and a bigger ego.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEITCH: But yes, the thing about the game yesterday that was interesting is, you know, Utah just came up -, they just finished up their Houston series. The Lakers have a lot of time off. So they're clearly more energetic but yesterday's game was actually a very dull game because the refs were calling so many fouls yesterday that, like, Kobe Bryant threw like 23 free-throws yesterday...

MARTIN: We should say, they were saying

Mr. LEITCH: (Unintelligible) television.

MARTIN: Utah Jazz and the Lakers, won 109 to 98. But you say it wasn't compelling, it wasn't...

Mr. LEITCH: It was just a lot of free-throw shooting. I think it's - it took a lot of - that whole game kind of had the - this kind of this plodding feel, because the refs weren't really letting them play that much, and I think you'll see that relax a little bit in the next two games.

MARTIN: And finally, Will, I'm going to ask you a question and you might just want to just wrap it all up and close this chapter of your life, but we did have on Buzz Bissinger last week, onto the show, and he apologized again for the tone - we should remind people that there was a bit of an Internet brouhaha when he pretty much took you down online on Bob Costas' show, and...

Mr. LEITCH: An iKerfuffle (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: iKerfuffle, exactly, and you know, he then came on and he stood behind his remarks about blogging, what he called debasing journalism and our society at large, pretty big statement, but he apologized for his tone. Have you spoken with him personally since then?

Mr. LEITCH: We had an email conversation that we both said - mutually agreed to keep private, but certainly, you know, the thing about him is, you know, he's a wonderful writer, and he's a wonderful journalist, and I think maybe he went into that interview perhaps not as educated about the world of sports blogs as, I think, may have benefitted him, but certainly, I have no ill will toward the guy.

So "Friday Night Lights" is a wonderful book. "A Prayer for the City" is a wonderful book. So it's - I hope - it's - one of the things I was worried about going into - after this was, you know, I think a lot people that read sports blogs could really benefit from reading Buzz Bissinger's books in the same way that Buzz Bissinger could probably benefit from reading some of the best sports blogs. And I hope, after this whole mess of last week, that's still possible for either one of those things to happen.

PESCA: Will, setting aside his language, his tone, ah, just about everything about his presentation, was there anything in what he was saying that you agree with?

Mr. LEITCH: Ah, well, certainly, I think that sometimes - that in general, the tone of line of - on any side can get pretty ugly pretty quickly. Now, it's just that - I love to joke, but you could make the claim that you could put a picture of a puppy online on a widely-read, like, AP story, a picture of a puppy up there, and by the 20th comment, racial slurs are coming out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Right.

Mr. LEITCH: The conversation can get pretty ugly online. I don't think anyone would deny that. I think it's that - it was a weird position for me to be not only - not necessarily defending Deadspin or defending sports blogs, but defending the Internet...

MARTIN: All of the Internet, yeah.

Mr. LEITCH: Yeah, which was kind of a difficult spot, and I think that's something that not only Buzz but even Bob Costas, a little bit - I think they were (unintelligible) a little bit, just from even a cursory knowledge of how it works and how it all goes on. I think - it's a shame we didn't get to actually - because I think there's legitimate discussions and viewpoints on each side, and it's a shame that we didn't get to have that.

MARTIN: Hey, Will Leitch, thanks as always, editor of the sports blog Deadspin.com. Thanks, Will.

Mr. LEITCH: Of course. Thanks for having me.

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