OPINION — Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: Oaklawn well-represented in Kentucky Derby

It is almost unbelievable that when the horses go to post for the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, nine of the hopefuls ran at least one race at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs this season.

That's almost half the field in the biggest race in the world.

There have been times, mostly before Instant Racing that developed into a casino that drastically improved purses, when the Run for the Roses had no horses who had raced at Oaklawn.

It may be the greatest compliment for 3-year-old racing Oaklawn has had, and all they had to do was be themselves.

Back in 1983 when Sunny's Halo, winner of the Arkansas Derby, ran to the winner's circle on the first Saturday in May, it was considered luck.

Lil E. Tee ran second in Arkansas Derby and won the Kentucky Derby in 1992 for the late great W. Cal Partee and it was really considered luck.

Things started to change in 2004 when Smarty Jones won both Derbies and the Preakness but lost the Belmont. Then came one of the the greatest moment in thoroughbred racing and it was a feat that made the racing world stand still and pay close attention.

In 2015, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent American Pharoah to Oaklawn for the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. He won both and then made history when he won the Triple Crown, ending a 37-year drought that some thought might last forever.

Oaklawn, once a nice little track in the Midwest, is running with the big horses, nine of them in fact.

. . .

There is a reason Nikola Jokic is considered a dominate difference-making force in the NBA.

The two-time Most Valuable Player and four-time All-NBA power forward for the Denver Nuggets plays sound, fundamental basketball.

In the 97-87 win over Phoenix on Monday night that gave the Nuggets a 2-0 lead in the series, Jokic grabbed one of his 16 rebounds, took two steps and brought the ball up to his chest and made a perfect two-handed pass that resulted in an easy layup.

Jokic, 6-11 and 284 pounds, didn't try to hot dog it with a baseball throw or one hop it in traffic. He did what he learned growing up in Serbia, where basketball fundamentals are taught daily.

Since joining the Nuggets for the 2015-16 season, the second-round pick has worked hard to develop into an all-around player.

In his rookie season, he averaged 10 points per game which increased to 16.7 his second and has continued to grow. For the past three seasons, he has averaged 26 points per game.

This season he averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists for the top seed from the Western Conference.

His hard work paid off last summer when the Nuggets signed him to a five-year, $264 million supermax contract extension.

. . .

Gerald Nesbitt was a great athlete and perhaps even greater person.

After serving in the Marines, he was offered a football scholarship by Arkansas and he came to epitomize the fighting Razorback spirit.

He played fullback and linebacker, rarely leaving a a game because he also punted and did the placekicking.

Gerald was an All-American on the field and off it he was an academic All-America.

After four years in the Canadian Football League, he settled in Little Rock. When he retired after 47 years, he took his almost constant smile and kind heart to the VA hospital, where he volunteered most mornings.

He loved the Little Rock Touchdown Club and his regular greeting, along with a crushing handshake, was "Semper Fi, Go Hogs."

Heaven must have needed another great American. Gerald died last week at the age of 91.

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