The Ghosts of Derbies Past
by J.E. Fountain
I confess I love a spectacle. One of my favorites takes place the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville: The Kentucky Derby.
I suppose to very grave souls it may seem rather frivolous. After all, these are troubled times. But to my way of thinking at least, a bit of spectacle now and then is more than just an escape, it is a reminder that all is not lost. A little frivolity won't kill us.
Indeed it may be just what's needed.
So I intend to enjoy this running of the Kentucky Derby without a hint of shame. I will take in as much coverage as the network offers. Being only a slightly grave soul myself I may roll my eyes a bit at the garish hats and the opulence of Millionaire's Row. I will wonder once again, just what a Mint Julep tastes like, but won’t imbibe until I do it proper at Churchill Downs. I’ll follow the lesser races and the beautiful beasts; I delight in their fanciful names, and I exult in every human interest story of jockey, trainer, and owner.
Throughout the day, I'll make notes as the announcers and experts analyze the main event. My mind is nearly made up where my wager will go, but until the post, there's always the chance some tidbit of information may change my mind; mine and thousands more. There will be studious handicappers, with PPs and Daily Racing Forms, who care not of human interest. There will be the novice and movie star that like a colt’s name, or the jockey's silks, or lucky number 7. Me, I’m too analytical to be swayed by sentiment, but still, I'm looking for that something unknown.
Late in the day, the trumpeter will announce the champions arrival, and the din will begin to mount as the crowd sings My Old Kentucky Home. And then a few interminable minutes, a few last horseback interviews, until…"They're in the gate."
Followed shortly by…"And they’re off!"
It's all part of the spectacle.
The Colonel would be so proud.
But the real spectacle will last barely two minutes, unless we are truly privileged. Then it will last a fraction of a second less. The crowd will cheer from wire to wire, some in agony, some in exultation, most prematurely, but all with hearts pounding.
But I wonder if there is not another crowd that watches unseen, just as nervously. Are there not, in some celestial pastures sires and dams, and grand sires, and great grand sires who stamp and champ and watch? Shortly after the race, the talk of a triple crown will begin, but the three equine Kings, the Byerly Turk and the Arabians Darley and Godolphin, so rarely share their crowns. Time will tell. Do the princes watch? Does Seattle Slew agonize over his progeny? Does Affirmed have a favorite? Do all hush their neighs just a bit when Secretariat arrives? Does he watch with feigned disinterest, but secretly hoping his record will hold another year?
My prediction: when it’s over, he will leave head high, a bit aloof, and still the champ.
© 2015 Joseph E. Fountain