1000 Words: #4 The Kentucky Derby

This will be a long post. I feel I have a lot to say.

I have only been to the Kentucky Derby once before yesterday and never to the Oaks. For the out-of-towners, you should know that the Kentucky Derby is Very Important to Kentucky in terms of tourism, revenue, and horse racing. It is run on the first Saturday in May. The Oaks is run the day before the Derby and is a race for fillies (girl horses). Locals usually attend the Oaks and we leave the Derby more for the out-of-towners.

My first trip to the Derby was to the infield, which is really just an excuse for people to pay $40 to do the following: try to smuggle in all the alcohol you can, get really drunk, flash your tits for beads (if you have tits…if not, you can give tit-flashers your beads), and get really drunk. Notice there’s nothing in there about betting, taking part in a Louisville tradition, wearing a hat. So I did go once to the infield, drink a lot, flashed my tits, and smooshed all the drinking I should have done in college into one day. (Ask Husband about this sometime. He loooves to tell this story on me.)

This year, girl I work with has an “in” with someone from ESPN and she gets Oaks and Derby tickets every year. When she invited me, I said yes right away. Seats at the Derby are expensive. Ours would have been around $150. I got excited and got a hat. Ladies usually wear elaborate hats to the Derby and Louisville is crammed to the brim (pun intended) with hat shops and shows in the weeks before the Derby and Oaks.

Overall, I’m glad I went. I got to see what the fuss was all about. I got to wear a cool hat. People don’t wear hats much anymore, especially not women, and I wish that wasn’t so. I really enjoy a nice hat. It was a beautiful day, which was great after the horrible pouring rain and mud that was Oaks day. I don’t know a thing about betting – I can pick horses, but I don’t do well picking which way to bet. (What the hell’s a superfecta??) So I lost about $20. I was more concerned with overpriced mint juleps in pretty Derby glasses. I saw one celebrity in person – Andie Macdowell was in the bathroom, putting in eye drops.

I will say that I wouldn’t go again unless I definitely had seats and was going with people I really like and of whom I enjoy the company. The three women I went with are pretty good friends with each other – my boss and two of my co-workers. They talked about things I can’t relate to – buying expensive jewelry, paying people to clean your house, and times they were together and having fun before. You can only try so many times to get in on the conversation only to get ignored before you decide it’s time to just manage until its time to go home. When they decided to go for cocktails before dinner, I ducked home. Nobody seemed to notice. Or care. I’m not trying to sound pathetic or whiny. They are not my tribe and that’s ok. I have a tribe.

I did have a pretty good time. The weather was nice, it was fun to people watch. There were two women sitting near us who kept making out with each other which was just odd – two women over the age of 40 dressed to the nines acting like they were at a frat party. Also, I love hearing everybody singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” It’s beautiful to watch those animals run. They were born to and something in them wants to go fast and true to the finish.

I did not see the accident that resulted in a horse being quickly extinguished after the race. Eight Belles was a beautiful dark filly who ran in the Oaks the day before broke both her front ankles just after the race when, I’m told, her jockey tried to rein her in. They put her down right on the track. If you recall a few years back when Barbaro, another magnificent horse competitor, broke a leg. After attempt to rehabilitate him he eventually was put down. 

Which brings me to another part of the day for me. These aren’t isolated incidents. Someone said the trainers should know their horses better and not let them run if there’s a problem. Is there so much money on the line that we will ask so much of these animals then risk their health and the safety of their riders that we will allow them to run on potentially damaged legs? Well…yes, I think there is.

I am so ambivalent. On one hand, I see what this does for Louisville. It brings us a lot of money, a lot of jobs for people here, and exposes us as a hospitable and friendly place to be. But on the backside, jockeys are notoriously unhealthy – akin to ballet dancers in the bizarre and extreme measure they take to stay small and lightweight. The horses everything is based on are worked and broken only to be put down. (Yes, I know the horses are treated better than most people.)   

Ponderous man. Really ponderous.

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