Despite growing up in a farm state, I was never all that into horse racing as a kid. Sure, I would see them in parades and marvel at the sheer volume of poop they would let loose whenever they felt like it*. But I never found them all that interesting outside of parade entertainment. A few years back however, I was working in Ohio and Kentucky was part of my territory – and you can’t visit the Bluegrass State without being bombarded with thoroughbred memorabilia. Flying into the Lexington airport, for instance, you fly over dozens of horse farms and can see them running through the pastures, as if they are auditioning for the My Friend Flicka remake and have mistaken your plane for the private jet of some Hollywood producer.
While I was out there I started watching the Kentucky Derby every spring – and found myself feeling more excited while watching it than I was for all other sporting events. For two minutes, regardless of how much or how little you pay attention to the pre-game, you root for your favorite horse**. There’s so much drama and pageantry and florpy hat-ness that you almost forget how many people are passed out drunk or projectile vomiting in the infield (also, it probably helps that ABC doesn’t really cover that part so much).
One of my dreams is to get dressed up and go to the Derby one day, for nothing else than to drink a mint julip and fan myself. So when friends invited me out to Arlington Park to have lunch and watch the derby, I accepted. When I arrived, I found everything pretty much as I expected. We had a table in the “classy” restaurant portion of the track, where we were stationed right above a table of mob-wannabes***. It was a prefect location to peoplewatch as these old, obese people with bad hips wheeled their little walker-carts up to the betting windows to put their $2 trifecta bets in a desperate attempt to either finally win financial freedom or spend the kids inheritance out of spite.
I’ve never been much of a betting man, but when the first race came up there was a horse named “Megawattie” listed as a 14-to-1 shot. Of course, the odds had no meaning for me at that point, and I thought “When will I next have a chance to bet on a horse named for a former president of Indonesia?” and put down my $2. Needless to say, when Megawattie came in the winner, I was apoplectic with excitement.
All told the rest of the day wasn’t as successful, but still fun. Sure, I lost all my winnings betting on other races and the Derby**** and the drinks were awful*****. But it was a beautiful day, the races were exciting, and I was with good company. Ah, good times.
* Right in the middle of the street too!
** Or, more likely, the horse with the name you liked the best when they were reading them off as the horses got loaded into the starting gate
*** Who spent the majority of their time drinking, smoking, complaining about the waitress, and sweating.
**** So much for my plans of becoming a professional gambler. Surprisingly enough, no other horses were named after Indonesian presidents, so it got much harder to pick winners after that first one.
***** Attention Arlington Park bartenders - A vodka/tonic is supposed to contain *one* part vodka to *three or four* parts tonic, not vice versa.