Tuesday, January 30, 2007

25. The Kentucky Derby

Yesterday's blogging included two entries. One was a normal entry, the second one wasn't. It isn't my intention to be a "news outlet," making posts that will be made everywhere else. I did mention before about the train derailment in Bullitt County, but did so in the context of being near where I grew up and effecting communities which I once was a part of. Upon learning of the news that Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro had been euthanized, I reprinted verbatim the Associated Press news on the story. Some news stories will merit an entry such as this, but it isn't anticipated there will be many. Like many Kentuckians, for me the loss of a horse of any stature is unacceptable. The loss of an unbeaten colt which won the Kentucky Derby is most difficult.

As an unbeaten colt in five starts, Barbaro had already captured the attention of the sports world going into the Derby. His win in the Derby, by seven lengths, was the longest margin in a half century. Many felt we were finally due for another Triple Crown winner, the first since Affirmed won the summer I graduated from high school. That year, 1978, Alydar placed second in all three races of the Triple Crown, the only horse to have ever done. Barbaro was believed to be on his way to repeating the feat so far only accomplished by eleven horses. After the tragedy of the Preakness, in his convalescense, he became as beloved a horse as ever was, reminding many of Secretariat, perhaps America's greatest horse, which won the race in the record time of 1:59 and 2/5, back in 1973, and went on to win the Triple Crown with a spectacular 31 length victory in the Belmont, the largest margin of victory ever. That was in the days that Louisvillians still claimed the race and the track as their own.

Growing up in Louisville when I did, the Kentucky Derby was an event one always tried to get to in some way. The infield celebration wasn't nearly as big as it is now, and the price of tickets were far more affordable, allowing the traditional two-dollar bettor a chance to see the "greatest two minutes in sports." My family usually made a day of it, going out to the track early on Derby morning, making a stop at the Kentucky Fried Chicken/Porky Pig House on Preston Highway for several buckets of chicken to take along. In those days, the KFC opened early on Derby Day, and people loaded into the track with all manner of picnic baskets and other parklike accoutrements to help make the day more enjoyable. We usually staked out a place along the "clubhouse turn" where you could get up all the way to the rail and see the horses up close and personal. We would drag three park benches up to the rails, thus forming a three-sided fence around our little piece of real-estate for the day. My mother and her friends and all of us kids would be there all day long running around pretty freely. On most Derby Days, my grandfather Dan Hockensmith, and two of my uncles, Harmon Moore (not really my uncle but a close family friend)and Noble Hedger (the second husband of my great-grandmother's little sister Dorothy), would dress up in their finest, drop a few half-pints of vodka in the breast pockets, and make for the old stone wall near where the "Nurses Tents" were assembled, for an afternoon of schmoozing with the young nurses, eventually conning them out of several glasses of orange juice, to mix with their hidden half-pints of vodka. As the day would draw to a close, one of us kids would be dispatched to go round up Papaw, Uncle Harmon, and Uncle Noble and to make our way back home. Those days are long gone.

The three-week long Kentucky Derby Festival, commencing with Thunder Over Louisville, and leading up to the raceday itself provides Louisvillians with several opportunities to still heavily celebrate the Derby since Derby Days are no longer events to be enjoyed by Louisville's masses, as the day has been given over to the high rollers and corporate sponsors of America. Even the time of the race is now dictated to the needs of the broadcasters, with the presentation of the Governor's Trophy sometimes being delayed as commercials for Visa and Chrysler are ran on the airwaves. Several years ago, many Louisvillians decided the day for them is Friday, or Oaks Day, as it is called hereabouts. The Kentucky Oaks is just as venerable a race, and of the same age, as the Kentucky Derby. But it too has become too much a part of the corporate Churchill Downs, and less a day for the locals to enjoy a day at the track. Much more popular for Louisvillians are Father's Day, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving Day. So far, these days haven't been taken over by the seemingly single-minded moneid interests who control Churchill Downs.

Incidentally, the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for May 5, 2007.


Nick Stump said...

Ah, the half-pint in a suit coat--a grand Kentucky tradition. Nice picture into your past at the Derby.

Daniel S. said...

Of all my years, I've been to the Downs many times but never on Derby Day.

This year, my Graduation is on Oaks Day.

Anonymous said...

What! No comment on the election?

The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.