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2014 Kentucky Derby Week

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Yes, it's Derby week. No, I don't know who I'm picking... yet.

USA TODAY Sports

Well, here we are again.

I've been out of town for a while, spending some good R&R with Mrs. Matt and charging up the handicapping batteries. And look! Derby week is upon us. Let's get it going!

Almost one year ago, Orb rolled down the center of the muddy Churchill Downs stretch drive en route to winning the 2013 Kentucky Derby for Shug McGaughey. And for a moment, an all too brief moment, the horse racing populace could dream of possible Preakness and Belmont glory, and an end to the long Triple Crown drought.

The Kentucky Derby is, in many ways, the annual rite of passage of the hopes and dreams of many horse racing fans. Peripheral issues always hound our sport, whether it's safety, drugs, or any of the myriad of obstacles we continue to encounter. (Hey, have you heard, Churchill Downs raised takeout this meet? Okay, I'm sure you have.) But those issues, while legitimate and important, fail to take away the larger scale significance of the Derby.

As a singular race, the Kentucky Derby is probably overrated in terms of its importance in separating out great horses from also-rans. For every historic winner of the Derby - the Secretariat, the Spectacular Bid, the Citation - there are plenty of winners which are never heard from again. A horse that wins the Derby is not guaranteed to be a great horse, or even a memorable one. While the Derby winner might be the only horse a majority of the American public can identify by name, the notoriety won't equal everlasting thoroughbred greatness. Instead, Derby winners occupy a different part of history - and to be a bit hyperbolic - Kentucky Derby winners occupy a piece of Americana.

For all of the issues and problems that plague our beloved sport on a yearly basis, the Kentucky Derby continues to stand apart as the one time a year where the sport of horse racing breaks through to the living rooms of main stream America. As the longest consecutively run sporting event in our nation, the Kentucky Derby is part of what we are as Americans. The majority of the country may forget about horse racing as soon at the Triple Crown dream is gone for another year, but the Derby still moves the needle in a way that compares favorably to other major sporting events.

Beyond the attraction and eyes of the American public, the Kentucky Derby represents the ultimate dream for those involved in the sport of thoroughbred racing. What owner, trainer or jockey doesn't hold onto the dream of one day standing in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs with their horse draped in the customary blanket of roses; ninety-nine out of a hundred will admit their Derby dream, the lone holdout is lying.

As we embark on Kentucky Derby Week 2014, we can admit that spending days and weeks trying to analyze and handicap a 20-horse field of still-developing three-year-old colts is overkill and that, ultimately, the Derby is just a small part of the real, overall picture of this sport. At the same time, the Derby stands alone as a singular American sporting event.

There are other races that pay out more money, generate more winners of the title of Horse of the Year, and produce more impacting sires in the breeding shed, but the Kentucky Derby - the greatest horse race in America and, along with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Epsom Derby, Grand National, and Melbourne Cup (just to name a few), one of the greatest horse races in the world - continues as the prime focal point for our sport in this country.

Beyond the superlatives, serious issues, or anything else we try to attach to the Kentucky Derby, the fact of the matter is, at least for me, Derby day (and week) is fun. Whether pouring over my racing forms for the Oaks, Derby, and related under cards, heading to the local liquor store to pick up a nice Derby day bottle of bourbon, or my girl preparing our annual mint juleps for our Derby party, Derby day is fun. And, really, isn't that what following this sport is supposed to be? Sure, we all want to make our millions and retire to some remote island in the South Pacific. And maybe for the select few that make their living betting on horses, the Derby is just another race. But for many of us, the Derby is what got us into this sport in the first place.

Have fun. It's a great game.

So, it's time to start Derby week.

We'll continue to post our contender and pedigree profiles over the next several days (Tribe and I will either look really smart or really stupid this time next week), along with our annual ADTSTC Bourbon Thread (beginning Thursday afternoon). We'll get things started on Friday with our Kentucky Oaks day open thread and then roll into Derby day bright and early Saturday morning.

If you're new to the site - welcome! Stop by the comments and introduce yourself, tells us who you like in the Derby, and join the conversation. We don't take ourselves too seriously here; we love to handicap, bet, and do what all horse players do: bitch about jockeys after a bad beat. Additionally, if you notice at any time that Tribe and I have picked the same horse in any race taking place anywhere on the known earth, take your money and run to another selection. (That's a joke. Kind of. Maybe not.)

Welcome to Derby Week 2014