I WATCHED THE Kentucky Derby on May 6 along with millions of other people and really enjoyed it. I tried to figure out during one of the breaks for commercials why I like horse-racing more than any other sport on television. Then it dawned on me. Horses can't talk.

In the age of TV sports hype, we get a constant barrage of athletes sounding off. Whether it's boxing, football, basketball, baseball, tennis or golf, there has to be controversy or the viewers will turn off their sets.

The sports announcer is always showing a microphone down some athlete's throat and asking, "Doesn't it really get you mad that Wilmot Sibbovik is getting twice as much money as you are?" Or, "Champ, you haven't shown anything since your last fight with the Liechenstein Mattress, Helmut Flug. Are you washed up or just coasting until you can get a $15,000,000 gate?" Or, "Tommy, the Yankees paid a million dollars for you to win a series for them. Now people are saying you have a glass arm. Don't you consider yourself an utter failure?"

But they can't do that to a horse. They can put the microphone up to his teeth or in his ear and he won't say a word. He'll never knock the other horses in a race; he'll refuse to blame his jockey or put down his trainer when he loses. He'll just look the sportscaster in the eye and keep his mouth shut.

A horse couldn't care less whether he gets a good press or a bad press. Money means nothing to him. He knows he won't get any more oats whether he wins every race or comes in last. He likes to run but it's not the biggest thing in his life.

Horses never complain about officials. They don't ask to be traded to Los Angeles, and they don't threaten to play out their options if management doesn't give them a duplex stable and a brand new Cadillac van.

When you watch television you never see one horse hitting another in the chops or knocking down another horse when the judges aren't looking.

A horse never holds up his hoof to indicate he's No. 1 when the TV cameras are on him.

He never breaks photographers' cameras, nor does he lose his cool when the fans start booing him.

Noble and graceful, he keeps his head high whether he's running in the Kentucky Derby or a Claiming Race in Cheyenne, Wyo. The horse is the ideal athlete, the last one still unspoiled by all the TV hoopla and money associated with most sports.

There may be jockeys, trainers and owners who will spout off when they see a TV red light, but the race horse is the only athlete who doesn't bore you.

Although Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, he took the victory in stride. Alydar lost it, but he showed no hard feelings toward the winner. Believe it, who came in third, happily went to his paddock, refusing to speak to Howard Cosell.

I was proud of all the horses who raced that day. They behaved with dignity and refuted the American belief that "Winning is everything." They were, if you'll forgive the cliche, " A credit to their race."