Friday, April 25, 2008

The Kentucky Derby: "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports"

Unless you have ever lived in Kentucky, you probably don't understand the excitement over the Kentucky Derby held each year on the first Saturday of May in Louisville, Kentucky (Louisville is pronounced by the local natives as "Luhvuhl" since it was named after King Luh XVI of France).

My last stop before moving to DC was Kentucky and it is a state blessed with gorgeous scenery, very nice people, many of my kinder relatives, majestic horses and some great bourbon. However, for most of the year there really is not that much to do there. Sorry. I said it. So beat me with a sterling silver Mint Julep cup and call me Secretariat.

During the weeks leading up to Derby though the state is gripped with excitement as Kentucky men dress up as dapper Col. Sanders' escorting their saucy Kentucky Fried belles from one over-the-top event to another in a marathon of liver punishing excesses reaching Mardi Gras-like proportions. Whether a woman is a corporate executive or a stock clerk at the Rural King, for the two weeks leading up to the Derby she is a fiery Scarlett O' Hara sucking down bourbon as though only that and the cloud of smoke from her Newport Lite cigarettes are the two things that will keep the damn Yankees at bay.

The day of the Run for the Roses most Kentuckians attend a Derby party with family and friends to watch the race since tickets to Churchill Downs are expensive and extremely difficult to obtain. They imbibe on Derby party food consisting of delicious yet artery clogging classics such as beaten biscuits with country ham, Benedictine dip, cheese grits, Derby Pie, and of course, Mint Juleps. There are probably also some deviled eggs, beer cheese, Henry Bain Sauce over cream cheese with crackers and maybe even burgoo.

Occasionally there is a veggie tray offered that usually makes it through the party untouched. Resourceful hostesses know to rearrange the veggies prettily before they completely wilt and decoupage the platter in order to use it for generations to come. Only layers of dust or the uninvited vegetarian, probably from Ohio will ever give the secret away.

The race itself is known as "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports" and is preceded by the crowd singing "My Old Kentucky Home." Most Kentuckians don't know every word to the song but all join in the haunting chorus:

"Weep no more, my lady Oh, weep no more, today
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home
For the old Kentucky home far away."

There are few dry eyes in the house after the song ends and there is always a short moment of silence before the cheering breaks out again. Even cynical, jaded know-it-all East Coast DC types pause for a minute to think of family and friends, the living and the dead, new and old traditions, choices made and how joyous life is when instead of looking at our differences, we celebrate how similar we all really are.

After that there is a horse race.

"The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports."

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