Ran this past Saturday, the Kentucky Derby holds a unique place in the sports world at the intersections of horse racing, gambling and pageantry. Ladies show up in gigantic hats and sun dresses, men in seersucker suits, sip mint juleps and expensive whiskey. Itâ€™s a scene from long ago that only partially counts as a sporting event.
To outsiders it may seem like an attempt to spice up a desperately boring part of the sports calendar. The eventâ€™s tag line, â€œThe most exciting two minutes in sportsâ€ belies its purpose further: How exciting can anything be if it lasts only two minutes?
But like many great sports, the athletic contest is a very small part of the attraction, an excuse to engage in questionable and reckless behavior that would otherwise be improper. The Kentucky Derby itself is actually the culmination of the two-week long Kentucky Derby Festival.
The festival includes the largest fireworks show in the United States, concerts, fashion shows and private parties. Waiters carry glasses of wine through an obstacle course in something called the Run for the RosÃ©. In terms of pageantry, The Derby makes college football look like a courthouse wedding.
Hunter S. Thompson, of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas fame, got his big break by writing about the Kentucky Derby. He slammed it as overtly racist and sexist, a place where a myriad of real-life â€˜Colonel Sandersâ€™ â€œmake an 18th century ass of themselves.â€
Charles Bertram / McClatchy Tribune
This yearâ€™s winning horse was owned by the son of a mob figure who played a key role in the corruption trial of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. Heâ€™s a self-described cowboy, who beat, among other horse owners, Sheikh Mohammad, the emir of Dubai. Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson, Travis Tritt and Aaron Rodgers were in attendance.
The concept of equality and social welfare is a joke to the men who spend millions on the acquisition and training of horses. Wastefulness is a way of life. Millionaireâ€™s row is what they call the luxury suites where the affluent and famous patrons watch the race, basking in the glow of their own good fortune.
Adding to the craziness is lack of evidence that spending money will win the race. Mine That Bird, this yearâ€™s winning horse, cost 9,500 bucks. Some of the losing horses cost more than two million.
The poor manâ€™s equivalent of Millionaireâ€™s Row is the infield of the track. Infield ticket holders have almost no shot or intention of actually seeing the race. Instead, itâ€™s where ordinary patrons go to drink themselves silly and party with abandon.
As the horses are paraded around the track before the race, the University of Louisville band plays the state song, â€œMy Old Kentucky Home.â€ Written in 1853, it describes life on a slave plantation. Luckily, in 1986 the Kentucky General Assembly changed some of the lyrics from â€œdarkiesâ€ to â€œpeople.â€
Too old-world for liberals, too sinful for conservatives and too rich to be shut down, the Kentucky Derby is one of the last bastions of overtly bigoted and politically incorrect behavior left in America. And the millions spent by Mohammad and the mob will keep it going for decades.
I would never defend the goingâ€™s on in Louisville, but it may be best to just accept it for what it is. Mix up that mint julep, put on your sundress and enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sports.