04/20/2009 11:00PM

Amid the clutter, Derby stands tall


TUCSON, Ariz. - As the Derby draws near, Derby Distractions abound.

Ernie Paragallo's lawyer wants more time to review additional evidence, so the ugly charges of horse abuse continue, with the best news coming out of Climax, N.Y., being that Pfizer Animal Health has provided health supplies for the 170 or so emaciated horses at Center Brook Farm. The Columbia-Greene Humane Society is making sure they are fed. The successful legal request for a continuation by Paragallo's lawyer to assess "additional evidence" might also be based on the thought that with the passage of time will come a lessening of the public revulsion and outrage that met the initial announcements and the accompanying pictures that confirmed the condition of the animals.

The hearing on the sale of Magna's racetracks also has been delayed a second time, until the Monday after the Derby, which should relieve that pressure. The bankruptcy judge in the complicated case, Mary F. Walrath, ruled that Magna cannot bundle Pimlico and Laurel with out-of-state tracks in its fire sale, but extended the approval for $38.5 million in financing - which was a reduction of $24 million from what Magna asked - until Nov. 6 to give the company time to market its bankrupt tracks.

Delaware North, which could not meet an upfront licensing fee a month or so ago, is back for a second try in the bidding to build the racino at Aqueduct. The governor and leaders of both houses of the New York legislature issued a rosy announcement of the reopening of bids, but a negative view of the situation came immediately from the chairman of the assembly's Racing and Wagering Commission, Gary Pretlow, who wants Albany to let the New York Racing Association handle those jobs itself.

Ohio, hard by Churchill Downs, is in the midst of an angry battle again for casinos, or slots at tracks. Like a stubborn cold or recurring infection, this issue keeps returning. Although voters have turned it down four times, casino operators are trying again, knowing the state's desperate need for money.

Despite all of these distractions, the Derby will prove again that after 134 years it still is the glitter and glamour girl of racing. Judging from the numbers put up at Keeneland, where crowds of more than 33,000 were reported on two Saturdays, the Derby could post some exceptional attendance numbers.

That attendance will be boosted by Churchill Downs's announcement that it has decided, after seven years of abstinence, to restore the ability of fans to haul coolers into the infield. Aware of drunken orgies of the past, track spokesman John Asher quickly pointed out that the coolers cannot contain booze. He was quick to acknowledge that the edict is hard to enforce, and that previous experience displayed crafty and ingenious ways of skirting the prohibition. He said all coolers are subject to search, but did not say that all would be searched. And he predicted that the cooler question would "likely launch new and inventive ways to try to smuggle in alcohol."

The battle of smugglers will not disrupt the throng that shows up. This is America's Race, and the lack of charismatic horses in this year's 20-horse field will not substantially affect the proceedings, or the televising of them that carries the race around the world. There is, of course, some drama for the TV crowd to chew on, such as the story of 75-year-old former teacher and school principal Tom McCarthy and General Quarters, his one-horse stable, and the final appearance of Friesan Fire's trainer Larry Jones, who lost Eight Belles last year.

There is some good news in the world involving betting.

Jim Dancy, president and CEO of Innovative Analytics, a Michigan biological research company, won $10,000 in the lottery and announced he would give it all to United Way.

"I know the needs in the community are great right now, so for me it was the right thing to do," Dancy said.

And in Maine, Brenda Ripton, an unemployed woman whose husband also is out of work, received a check for $700,000 after taxes last week, four years after she won the $1 million first prize in a Texas hold 'em lottery game. It turns out it took the lottery four years to sell all of the game's tickets, which it had to do to fulfill its obligation.

These events have nothing to do with horse racing, but a lot to do with the thought that there are deserving and generous gamblers out there. I feel good reading about them, and thought you would too.