My last column focused on how clichés cheapen writing, draw unwelcome attention and deliver staleness.

Several readers challenged my assertion that many sportscasters and sportswriters rely on tired expressions. These readers said they love the familiarity of sports clichés.

That got me thinking about the work of great sportswriters, whose command of language thrills readers: Most writers I know about, of any kind, revered the late Red Smith, even if they cared nothing about sports. The writer Smith revered was W.C. Heinz.

Now, my nominee for induction into that pantheon: Joe Drape of the New York Times.

Drape's description of this year's Kentucky Derby sparkled; filled with bright similes and metaphors, it rivaled the excitement of the race itself.

In the greatest upset in Derby history since 1913, a horse named Rich Strike shocked everyone, including the two prohibitive favorites "flashing past them," Drape wrote, "like a bottle rocket."

That comparison is a simile — it says one thing is like another. Drape kept going: Jockey and horse "rode the rail like a couple of hobos." And more: The jockey guided his horse through the pack, "zigzagging like someone late for work on a busy Manhattan sidewalk."

Consider next a metaphor, a figure of speech describing an object or action in a way that's not literally true, but that helps explain an idea or make a comparison.

Drape contrasted the Derby winner's owner — who paid only $30,000 for that unknown horse — with "hedge fund wizards and industrialists, the fat cats who could plunder their vaults and pay whatever it took to secure a regally bred horse who, they hoped, could run a hole in the wind."

Run a hole in the wind.

For the racing community that metaphor is familiar, but for the general public it feels fresh.

Similes and metaphors elevate writing. They help us see into the writer's mind and share a vision; writer and reader soar together.

Want to soar? Look up the W.C. Heinz story "The Morning They Shot the Spies." No wonder writers revere him.

Twin Cities writing coach Gary Gilson, who teaches journalism at Colorado College, can be reached through