And We’re Off!
Capturing the Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)
It took me about half a second to say yes when Jessica Chapel called and asked if I had any interest in teaming up on a project to cover this year’s Kentucky Derby.
We hatched the name “Kentucky Confidential” in no time, and the only thing that concerns me in retrospect is the word “confidential” means a communication in private, or secret.
This website is designed to be anything but a secret: We’ve been our own post-parade bugler for weeks now.
That said, the name does evoke a feeling of intimacy, and the whole idea here is to take you on a happy journey with us to Churchill Downs, shake up this old race and try to find out a little about what makes it tick.
We want to entertain and draw you closer to an event that, perhaps more than any other, is woven and bound into the fabric of America’s sporting identity. This country was explored and settled on horseback, and as long as the animals have been here, people have felt compelled to race them.
The Kentucky Derby has been around since 1875, and somehow the race continues to renew the bond and rekindle our fascination with horses. It is a minor miracle that it still can reinvent itself for a modern world.
So, we decided to do a little renewing and reinventing ourselves.
I’m not yet old, but I come from old-line journalism. I pasted up copy and headlines before the age of ubiquitous computers. I fumbled up stories for my college newspaper on what looked like a Royal Aristocrat typewriter from a quarter-century prior. I’ve worked with crusty sportswriters who brown-bagged a few cold ones in the office to wet their whistle while punching out golf columns.
Yet, I’ve gamely ridden every wave that has washed us toward the wired world we live in now, where media forms converge from all directions and shoot stories out into a dizzying galaxy of desktop and handheld devices — like the one you might be reading this on now.
Jessica, meantime, has built some of those waves. She founded Raceday 360, a pioneer in online racing coverage and story aggregation. She developed from scratch the hugely popular BC360 website I was fortunate enough to live blog for last fall at the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.
I knew she meant business when she mailed me the book, “Here Comes Everybody,” which looks at the sociological, philosophical and practical ramifications of social networking and how something big can arise from nowhere and topple media giants.
Kentucky Confidential is not necessarily out to conquer the world, but we aspire to do things a little bit differently than the establishment players. For one, we made a conscious decision not to pressure ourselves to break news. There already are superb industry players out there scouring every inch of the stalls for that. We, instead, want to bring you inside the Kentucky Derby experience.
Kentucky Confidential waltzes merrily through a gaping hole in coverage of this great event, as the media dinosaurs of the 20th century — newspapers, primarily — wither and desperately seek to transform themselves into something new and relevant. Speaking from experience, having been let go as the racing writer for The Washington Post after eight years of poor pay and rip-roaring fun, horse racing isn’t high on their list of pathways to salvation.
Good. More for us.
In our brainstorming, Jessica and I determined image and text would be equal partners during the two weeks of Kentucky Confidential. With that in mind, we assembled the team.
My good pal Jeff Krulik is a famed guerilla filmmaker, having made his name with the underground wonder “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” a freakout of fan chaos in the electric hours before a Judas Priest concert.
Last year, his Maryland Public Television documentary, “Eatin’ Crabs Chesapeake Style,” won an Emmy Award. In every film of his I’ve ever seen, characters simply spring to life.
Oh, and he loves horse racing.
Scott Serio is a Baltimore cop, who just might also be the best racing photojournalist in the business. His sense of composition captures both grandeur and excitement across action shots, portraits, landscapes, wherever he points his lens. I don’t know his secret (you don’t ask cops questions, they ask you), but his colors are stunningly vibrant.
On the words side, Claire Novak is a rising star, with a passion for racing, who also will be working this week for ESPN.com.
Pete Denk made his reputation as a student of racing horseflesh in his years with The Thoroughbred Times, and he has continued to hone his art of perception.
Brendan O’Meara is a freelance writer living in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., whose first book, “Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year,” will be published in July. He will be our nocturnal eyes, uncovering the lures and snares of Louisville nightlife in the “Bourbon Underworld” column.
“Blinkers Off,” who will go unnamed, has seen more racing than our entire gang put together. His giddy Derby tales of yore, presumably all true, will show that this glistening racing jewel happens to have a lot of dirt under the collar.
We also will mark the public debut of an obsessive young handicapper named “Action” Andy Andrews, who watches as many races as anyone I have ever known. He took second place last year in the Laurel Park qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship and won one of the Delaware Park monthly handicapping tournaments in 2009. Action is going to try to help us bring home the bacon.
If you think Jessica and I are just going to sit back and watch this happy band at play, you’re nuts.
On Derby Week, I’ll be in the eye of the storm and firing off stories from the front lines. When the big races roll around, I’ll be taking on Action Andy in head-to-head handicapping combat. I had the Pick 3 beginning with Giacomo for $14,900, so in my book, he is still a baby learning to crawl. Them’s fightin’ words.
Jessica will be a steady hand on the helm, keeping everyone up to date on Facebook and Twitter and unspooling sharp commentary when she sees fit. Her long-time followers know she cuts through chaff and points you to what’s important.
We’re going to live blog. We’re going to podcast. We’re going to gamble. We’re going to dance a jig when nobody’s looking because, honestly, we couldn’t be having more fun.
Wherever you choose to follow us, on whatever type of device, we’re happy to have you along. The grand, old Kentucky Derby in a shiny new format.
Funded by corporate sponsors and a public campaign on Kickstarter.com, for the next two weeks, we’re here at your pleasure. Thanks to all who supported us. Now get out there and enjoy the races.