Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

Derby Day

Round these parts, the Kentucky Derby is a Very Big Deal. It's difficult for mere mortals to get near Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, but since everyone and his sister hosts some sort of Derby event, there's no shortage of ways to celebrate the Run for the Roses. Trying to get in the true spirit of things, and also to enetertain a visiting mother-in-law, we headed for Keeneland. In some ways, this was probably better than being at the real event. First, while it poured rain over in Louisville, it was merely overcast in Lexington. Second, the 24,000 people at Keeneland were enough to give one the sense of being at an Event without becoming the absolute madhouse that the 140,000 people at Churchill must have been. As for the actual festivities, what can I say? Bets were placed; money was lost; mint juleps were drunk; "My Old Kentucky Home" was sung; Licia got to ride a miniature pony for about a minute: a jolly time was had by all.

Probably more interesting than the race itself (Smarty Jones won, by the way), was getting to see the horseracing scene first-hand. I've always been kind of puzzled by horseracing as a phenomenon. On the one hand, it has its roots in (and with spectacles like the Derby still affects an air of) gentility and aristocratic privilege. On the other, with legalized gambling as the engine that drives the sport, it draws ro itself all manner of seedy characters and practices. Professional boxing perhaps once exhibited the same split personality, although in that case Mr. Hyde has all but eclipsed Dr. Jekyll. In the case of horse racing, it's still an open question which will win out. This ambivalence was quite in evidence at the Derby party, where the population was a mix of (apparently) hardened veterans of the mutuel windows; drunk collegians in blue blazers trying, not very successfully, to act sophisticated; occasional authentic members of the horsey set (or convincing replicas thereof); and of course, cultural tourists like ourselves. I'm not sure I'm any closer to understanding how the different sides of the sport co-exist, but somehow they do.