At least horse racing isn't woke yet
No question, we are in for some hard times these coming years. Not just with the malevolent creatures in the White House, but in so many areas of American life — from popular culture to sporting events. BLM zombies lurk from every corner of crazy, spreading their racist poison.
Thankfully, the first Saturday in May is coming up. Kentucky Derby horse racing is front and center. Churchill Downs is a decidedly No Woke Zone edifice, built for the Sport of Kings, featuring a vast Millionaire's Row complex and super-exclusive Skye Terrace, put up in 1969 for Gov. Reagan, Sen. Dirksen, and President Nixon's visit, though Nixon was savvy enough to spend some time with the crowd. The one sport gloriously stuck somewhere in the late 1940s. This week in Louisville is about the only time American men and women still dress up and wear hats.
Horse racing has been my favorite sport since I was a little kid, and while it has its downsides, it never insults its fans on the scale such as we see elsewhere. Part of that is that so many of the sportscasters and radio hosts are intimidated by their lack of knowledge of the sport and just refrain from saying anything. One exception was the boorish lefty, Bob Costas, who finally exited NBC's race team a few years ago.
Last year's race protesters have also quietly melted away from the Derby City, and the most reckless of them, Grandmaster Jay, is facing 20 years in federal prison.
This year's Derby will feature a well regarded black jockey, Kendrick Carmouche, riding the Calumet horse, while last year's race boasted a black ownership group.
There will be the usual hand-wringing about lack of black participation in the sport, but the reality is, racing was always a meritocracy—that's why there are so many women on the race track—but it requires a tremendously specialized set of skills to train or ride. And if you aren't from a horse racing area — the Louisiana Cajun country, the quarter horse hotbeds of New Mexico, or the little neighborhoods around Churchill Downs, as with so many Kentucky hard boots — it's hard to find the first rung on the ladder.
To actually own a horse in the Derby, you need to be really rich or really lucky. Queen Elizabeth, who is both, hoped one of her excellent runners might one day make it to the big race, but they never did. MC Hammer, however, spent his rap millions on horses and did succeed in getting a Derby entrant. He even won the second-biggest race, the Kentucky Oaks, in 1991.
And unlike professional team sports, there's no barrier, other than money, to entry. Even then, you could have claimed Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic a few months ago for just $50,000. It really helps though, to have a top trainer. As with football coaches, some trainers are just a lot better than the others. The Brown University frat boys who own Hot Rod Charlie made it because of their relationship with two-time Derby-winner Doug O'Neill.
Meanwhile, the ungodly rich Arab princes, who so easily dominated European racing for decades, only recently figured out that if they wanted to win at the sport's highest level, the American classics, they needed to go with the best American trainers. The two big Arab outfits, Juddmonte and Godolphin, both now have their horses with Brad Cox, who grew up just down the street from Churchill Downs.
I can also offer a few insider tips for the race if you are watching from home. First, the weather is supposed to be sunny and dry Saturday. That helps the favorites, as they get a better trip and can strut their stuff if they are ready. Only one recent long shot, Giacomo in 2005, has won on a really fast track.
Second, if you're mixing mint juleps, you want to boil the simple syrup and leave the crushed mint to marinate a good long time, like this recipe. And please, real Kentucky Straight Bourbon. It's a premium product anyone can easily appreciate — a marvelous all-American elixir good in any cocktail, or just sipped neat, as you prefer.
Bourbon is much like the cuvée in champagne, the best grape juice from the first pressing. By law, bourbon must be aged for years only in new, charred, white oak barrels. (Brown spirits coming today from the British Isles or Canada only date back to mid-nineteenth-century formulas and are sad imitations, being aged in used bourbon barrels.) Best of all, a good bottle of straight Kentucky bourbon can often be had for less than $10.
So enjoy the racing, and stock up on the bourbon. It may come in handy the next four years.
Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, KY.
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