Derby lets novice bettors score big 

April, 30, 2010

A tunnel of noise. A bubble of sound.

I can see Chris Martin using phrases like that. Definitely Bono. Don't get me wrong. I love Bono. "The Joshua Tree" is the seminal album of my youth. To this day, the greatest regret I've ever had is blowing off the "Joshua Tree" tour concert at Rosemont Horizon outside Chicago with my friends. It was Halloween in 1987 and I was a junior in high school. My girlfriend at the time begged me to take her to this haunted house she'd heard about and, well, I was a sucker who was sure I'd close the deal, so I gave a buddy my ticket and went to the lamest haunted house ever. Me and the girl broke up. My friends were on the local news that night for starting the wave at the U2 concert. They still talk about it. I still have to leave the room when they do.

My point is, when people describe noise as all-encompassing, it's usually self-important rock stars. But that's what Lane Gold, the thoroughbred handicapper, said it sounds like at Churchill Downs when the pack comes out of the final turn headed for the finish line. "The jockeys have told me they can feel it, too," Gold says. "A big tunnel of noise that takes over, coming from the infield and the grandstand. Some horses get spooked because they have never experienced anything like it."

When you've got 150,000 mint-julep-fueled fans rooting for a win, place or show, the decibel level can escalate quickly. And the Derby is the perfect storm for gamblers: a veritable lottery, party, spectacle, where you don't need to know anything to make a ton of dough. "It really is the best value for any horse race," says the Wynn's race and sports book manager, John Avello. "The place and the show wagers pay really well."