It’s the first leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown. It’s the Run for the Roses. It’s the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports. If I missed any of the clichés, I hope the fine people of Kentucky will forgive me. No matter what you call it, America wakes up to the sport of horse racing for the Kentucky Derby each year, then puts it way back in importance unless a horse actually contends for the Triple Crown.
The race takes place at beautiful and historic Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. This race for three-year-old horses made its debut in 1875 in front of about 10,000 spectators. Attendance these days hovers around the 155,000 mark.
Which isn’t to say that anywhere near that many actually watch the race; thousands of people purchase general admission tickets to party in the infield, and for them the race is both literally and figuratively a blur. The contrast is quite stark between the sloshed revelers in the infield and the ladies in the expensive seats who could only wear those hats if they were themselves feeling no pain.
The winning horse now earns $2 million, which breaks down to about $16,000 a second. Nice work if you can get it. The track record is still held by the magnificent Secretariat (Great American Things, September 14, 2009), who owned the Triple Crown way back in 1973.
The Derby has been a staple of television since its first broadcast in 1952. It’s now sponsored by Yum! Brands, best known for its fast-food franchises. So this year, get a bucket of KFC, a few burritos from Taco Bell, a fish and fries from Long John Silver’s, and a meat lover’s from Pizza Hut (okay, this needs to be a party), mix up some mint juleps, and listen as the University of Louisville band plays “My Old Kentucky Home.”
And they’re off!…