Tact at the track: Introduction [Kentucky Derby]


Rather than rolling up that program and whipping yourself with it, Why not calmly study its contents? It may make Derby Day go a lot smoother for everyone

“Look at that . . . Look at that (expletive)!” a heavy-set stranger demanded while shoving an assortment of tickets in my face at the end of the Humana Distaff, the ninth race on Derby Day 2010. The final horse hadn’t even crossed the wire. I quickly busied myself trying to ascertain two things:  the exact order of finish and why the hell this buffoon in a banana-colored suit had decided to accost me. But there you go — like every Derby, the 136th had attracted more than its share of wise-asses, know-it-alls and blow-hards.   
“Woulda had the exacta 15 times if the 8 coulda gotten up for (expletive, expletive) second,” the guy said. Only problem was, the 8-horse wasn’t anywhere near second place, or even the top half of the field. For the sake of amusement, I wanted to point this out, but didn’t want to risk the possibility of more charming banter with Mr. Exacta. Besides, he didn’t have time for semantics — or logic — and was really starting to unravel.  

Chalk it up to alcohol or genuine adult public fit-throwing, but I’m filing this one as another unfortunate case study in poor racetrack etiquette. I’d have almost felt embarrassment for him had this scene not felt so familiar. Didn’t this game I love originate as the “sport of kings”?

Bad behavior by the ignorant, inconsiderate, annoying and downright asinine is a common racetrack ill. The ponies are supposed to be fun, so allow me to share some anecdotes and antidotes to help you deal with people bent on spoiling everyone else’s.  Better put,  don’t allow yourself or any of your companions to become that guy at this year’s Derby, or at a planned corporate outing, or at any other venture to the track.

You don’t have to turn into the Great Conciliator overnight, but as self-respecting Louisvillians we’re better than this. 

And so begins this discussion of Racetrack Etiquette 101, complete with no-nonsense suggestions for becoming more tolerable at the track, whether the culprit is boorishness or just holding up a betting line.  

Illustration by Cat Scott

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