For those who do not follow horse racing, and that’s 98 percent of the population, I should explain that Derbytime refers to the Kentucky Derby and especially the money-making festivities leading up to it.
Horse racing is a dying sport, and if horse track owners were allowed to change out horse races for casinos, the sport would be roadkill in one heartbeat. As it is, horse racing is hard to find on national HDTV, save for the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby. Think of it as the one day of the year people pay attention to something they don’t think about on any other day, such as Christmas without the obligation to be reverential.
It wasn’t always so. William Faulkner, Nobel Laureate, twice Pulitzer Prize winner, twice National Book Awards winner, wrote about the Kentucky Derby for Sports Illustrated in their May 16, 1955, edition. Gentlemen, please remove your hats.
“This saw Boone: the bluegrass, the virgin land rolling westward wave by dense wave from the Allegheny gaps, unmarked then, teeming with deer and buffalo about the salt licks and the limestone springs whose water in time would make the fine bourbon whiskey; and the wild men too — the red men and the white ones too who had to be a little wild also to endure and survive and so mark the wilderness with the proofs of their tough survival — Boonesborough, Owenstown, Harrod’s, and Harbuck’s Stations; Kentucky: the dark and bloody ground.”
Admit it. You didn’t read that paragraph all the way through. So, maybe it was Faulkner who killed horse racing.
Or, maybe not. Here is a local fellow (Louisville born and raised) writing about the Derby for Scanlan’s Monthly 15 years after Faulkner’s piece came up for air.
“…the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles, and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk…. Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By midafternoon, they’ll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It’s hard to move around. The aisles will be slick with vomit; people falling down and grabbing at your legs to keep from being stomped.”
Hunter Thompson wrote that 38 years ago, in 1970. Now, the way this column is supposed to go is that I put in a third writer, current day, big name, and with these three extracts, indirectly show the change in American culture over a 50-year period. Pretty cool for an 800 word column.
But I couldn’t find a present-day big-name writer who had written about the Kentucky Derby, which explains the status of horse racing well enough, if too abruptly. Apparently, nobody under the age of 30 wants to write about a crank hobby of millionaires and the queen of England.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t make money on it. Which is all right with me; I like excess, our country was built on it. Is the Super Bowl less enjoyable because it’s become one gargantuan boardwalk of failed actors hawking denture cream, bipolar medication, cars, and beer? Of course not. They still have a football game in there.
Just so. Anyway, I like the race setup. The Kentucky Derby is two minutes long. That’s it. Everything else has been added on by greedy humans. Regard pilgrim, the 21/2-hour telecast on NBC. There are at least 50 Kentucky Derby events, each one with an agenda, ranging from the AT&T Derby Festival Pro Beach Volleyball Exhibition (mighty good beaches in Kentucky), to DeVry University Presents Derby Festival Night of the Future Stars, to Kentuckiana Honda Dealers Present Derby Eve Jam. Megacorps, do-good organizations, and college factories pay great gobs of money for the right to pick up any shake falling from the Derby Money Tree.
By the way, it’s no longer the Kentucky Derby; it’s the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. What is Yum! Brands? Their website says they are “the world’s largest restaurant company in terms of system restaurants with more than 35,000 restaurants in more than 110 countries and territories.” Besides an abiding hatred for the English language, Yum! Brands owns KFC, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and the planet Uranus.
Okay, okay, who’s going to win? Big Brown, owned by the corporate entity known as IEAH Stables, which is a subsidiary of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings presented by Fender’s Horse Sausage. I made the last part up, but Big Brown is real, and the quickest beast in the field. Bet the mortgage.