A Kentucky Derby-Inspired Story

If you tuned into the Kentucky Derby this weekend, you witnessed history.

Rich Strike, an 80-to-1 odds favorite to win the whole thing, made a comeback so insane, the announcer had to frantically look up his name just so he could announce what was unfolding in front of him.

Rich Strike was such a long shot that a couple of other horses got out of the way earlier in the race, believing he was not a threat whatsoever.

But this horse’s backstory is even crazier. I’ll pull from a comment by Reddit user rreapr because I like the way it’s written:

This horse was not even in the race as of yesterday. Another horse was pulled out only one day in advance, making room for Rich Strike. This was his second win ever and his eighth race. His jockey had never rode in the Derby before. His trainer had never had a horse anywhere near Derby-level before. He nearly quit the racing business entirely after 23 of his horses were killed in a barn fire.

These guys were up against trainers with dozens of Derby starters, people who are buying horses with expensive bloodlines and putting a lot of money and calculated effort into producing the best Derby hopeful possible and putting them under top-level jockeys. Meanwhile Rich Strike had no fancy pedigree and was never intended to be a household name, just a solid runner in races most people would never hear about.

It’s mind-boggling that there are people who try over and over to win this race every year, spending enormous amounts of money trying for the perfect horse, only to get beaten by a nobody horse with an undistinguished trainer because everything worked out just right for them. It’s a stereotypical underdog story on an absolutely ridiculous scale. This is the second-biggest Derby upset ever – the biggest was in 1913.

Here’s a super cool overhead view of the race in case you missed it.

Naturally, the Derby made me think of horses in basketball, and while we don’t have an Air Bud equivalent yet (Air Filly, perhaps?), we do have H-O-R-S-E.

Even non-basketball fans have likely been roped into a game before. But just in case, H-O-R-S-E works like this: One person takes a shot. If they miss, the next player goes. But if the shot goes in, the following person has to make that same shot, or they get a letter. Spell out H-O-R-S-E and you lose.

So, in honor of Rich Strike, here are some of the best H-O-R-S-E shots you can do (in order of difficulty, from easiest to most extreme).

Left-handed layup off the wrong foot

My very first coach who taught me how to shoot layups told us to think of our arms and legs as if they were connected by strings. If our right hand went up to shoot, so did our right leg.

It’s a handy tool. Use it to your advantage in H-O-R-S-E by turning it on its head.

Go for a left-handed layup, but instead of raising your left leg as you shoot, jump off the left foot, so your right leg goes up in the air.

It’s a weird, cross-body thing and feels unnatural to anyone who’s played basketball before. And that’s what you want in a game like H-O-R-S-E.

Eyes closed free throw

Here’s a little free-throw secret: Eyes are overrated.

Once during a middle school basketball practice, our coach had us all shoot a free throw, but with a catch. Our eyes had to be closed, and for every miss, we had to run down the length of the court and back.

One by one, my teammates clunked the ball off the rim, or sometimes missed it entirely. But young Joey was about to change the momentum.

I stepped up to the free-throw line, looked at the basket, and visualized it going in. Then I took a couple of dribbles, closed my eyes, and pictured the hoop in front of me. I released, it swished, my teammates cheered like they had just run the lottery.

Then the teammate after me airballed his shot and we had to run again.

The point is, I̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶t̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶n̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶y̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶e̶l̶s̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶t̶e̶a̶m̶ you don’t need to see the basket to make a free throw. You already know where it is.

Like in life, if you can visualize what you want, you will be successful at H-O-R-S-E.

Use a ball besides a basketball

Who says you have to stick with a basketball in H-O-R-S-E? This method requires a bit of preparation beforehand, but the payoff is well worth it.

Any other ball will do here, but I’d go in this order:

  • Tennis ball
  • Lacrosse ball
  • Football
  • Kickball
  • Soccer ball
  • Softball
  • Badminton birdie
  • Wiffleball
  • Golf ball
  • Pickleball
  • Ball Bearing
  • Former NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball
  • Ping Pong Ball
  • Baseball

The reason baseball is last is that a baseball is very hard, and if your opponent(s) happen to be standing under the basket, even if you make the shot, you’ll lose because you will end up footing their hospital bill.

Off the backboard, catch in mid-air, make the basket

I’m a big fan of any H-O-R-S-E shot that requires an initial toss to yourself, whether off the basket or up in the air.

Since most of us have, at best, average hand-eye coordination, simply throwing the ball off the backboard to yourself and successfully catching it is a major win.

Add on making a basket afterward? Your opponent might just take the letter without even attempting the shot.

That type of psychological warfare will make you a H-O-R-S-E champion.

Dunking while riding a horse

Much like using a different ball, this strategy requires a bit of prep work.

For starters, you’ll need a horse. You might be one of those fancy people that played polo or ran equestrian courses as a child, in which case procuring a horse might be easier for you than others.

Or, you might be near a park that happens to be doing pony rides for children. I don’t think anyone will call you out for using a pony, but you may have to tell a kid to wait ten minutes for you to pull off this great shot, and making kids wait is always dangerous.

However, once a horse is obtained, there’s no way you can lose.

The biggest issue is how to ride on the horse in a way that would allow you to easily stand up and dunk the ball. Most horses are about 4.5-5.5 feet tall, so you still need another five feet or so on a standard rim.

I’d recommend riding with both legs on one side as the horse gallops to the rim, and then you can make a quick leap off and dunk. If you’re especially talented, you can hang on the rim until the horse comes back to you, then gently drop back into the saddle. The horse might even go to the bathroom in all the excitement, which is the perfect punctuation to a game-ending shot.

If the Kentucky Derby ever uses this move, I’ll take the 3% royalties.

Also, please don’t ever try this at home, or anywhere.

One thought on “A Kentucky Derby-Inspired Story

Comments are closed.