Derby Day

May 02, 2009 |

Horse racing is a niche sport the say the least.  Seemingly the only two groups who genuinely follow it are the ultra rich and depraved gamblers.  That is until the Triple Crown Races begin.  Once the Kentucky Derby hits, affectionately known as the first jewel of the crown, horse racing is once again thrust into the scope of popular culture.   



The slogan chosen to describe the Kentucky Derby is apt; they call it the “most exciting two minutes in sports” and quite frankly it measures up to the billing on most derby days.  I, like the majority of you, have no idea who won any of the races leading up to the derby until the folks at the major sports networks tell me.  No casual fans follow these races, and I would also wager that many don’t know the lineage of each horse in the derby either. 



Because the race is so exciting it is hard to look away.  Who doesn’t have two minutes to spare in order to watch an historical race that has been run for 135 years?  The Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuous sporting event in US history which has to say something for its entertainment value.  The allure of the race is not just in its history however, it is also found in the fact that it is really one big themed party.  The pomp and circumstance that go along with the derby is something to behold; beautiful women dress up in skimpy spring dresses with audaciously large hats, and for those of us who enjoy the sauce who can say no to a theme drink, especially when it involves bourbon?   



For all of its glory however the fact that the Kentucky Derby is really for the niche crowd cannot be ignored.  Today the big story, other than favorite I Want Revenge being scratched, is the fact that one can buy a $1,000 Mint Julep at the race.  Can the average fan enjoy one of these drinks, or even think of sitting in the grandstand amongst the hoity toity, I think not.  They sequester the regular folk to the infield so as not to offend anyone with their revelry.  Often they are the only affordable tickets anyway.  I imagine most of the folks in the infield come more for the party which is a good thing considering they probably can’t see the action from there.



The Kentucky Derby represents a microcosm of the social stratification present in our society.  Working class gamblers using off track betting systems everywhere will be handing over their hard earned dollars today with the dream of getting rich quick.  Some may win a show bet or possibly a trifecta if they are lucky but many will lose money they can’t afford to be without.  In the infield the middle class people will be partying with little regard, many will end up on youtube and have to one day explain it to their kids.  While those individuals who are ordering $1,000 bourbon mojitos stand to win substantial amounts of money through the winner’s purse or other perks of ownership like lifelong stud fees. 



I have nothing against gambling, partying, or horse ownership for that matter, but the general parallel to our social construct is undeniable.  One thing is certain horse racing and betting are synonymous.  Gambling in general has taken hold of national consciousness unlike any other time in history.  Its influence can be seen by the rise in popularity of poker programming, online gaming, offshore betting, and the incredible growth of the casino industry particularly noticeable in the fact that Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the US.  Even the wholesome Disney Corporation reports the odds, favorites, and money line bets for the race through ESPN and its affiliates.  The topic of betting is one for my upcoming Preakness Stakes blog because as I see it the allowance of slots may be its only hope for survival and the continuance of the horse racing industry in Maryland.  



It is a shame they are forecasting rainy weather in Louisville today because race day is always more interesting when it’s sunny.  Good luck to those of you who wagered, look out for General Quarters in the race today because I got a feeling about this one.  Well to be truthful I don’t know very much about horse racing but I do know he is starting from gate 12 which puts him in good position to win.  To use a cliché you can’t win on paper which is why they run the race.