What does a Louisville transplant do when she doesn't know Derby? Friends and acquaintances can't stop talking about the bets they'll place on horses with names that sound like dog-eared mass paperback mystery novels in my grandmother's nightstand. Before I moved here, I'd heard of Derby, but it was just a thing--a race--not a cultural phenomenon. And, this being my fourth Derby, it's one I'm still trying to understand.
It's puzzling to me, the money people drop on hats and dresses, and gastronomically destructive Derby fare… Did I mention the silly hats? And, yes, there are celebrities in town, dining at Louisville's finest restaurants, hobnobbing on the streets, all for a 2-minute horse race?
Granted, it's really is the most exciting 2 minutes in sports I've ever seen, yet the reason why seems impossible to "track" down. Ahem. I truly know nothing about horses, except that they're astounding creatures. But, I've developed an affinity for Rachel Alexandra--only because her name is my name, too. (She's my driver's side vanity mirror of horse racing.) It's just too bad she won't be racing Saturday.
But, it's not all fun and games. I'm bothered by the slight stature of the jockeys, the fate of horses post-stardom, horse racing as an industry, and the waste of consuming unnecessary, fancy garb for the sake of tradition, because it's just always been done that way.
Perhaps a few more years in Louisville will lead me to a better understanding of the Kentucky Derby culture.
The real cultural phenomenon of Derby is that Louisville is suddenly transformed into a small town. Whether we're native Louisvillians or not, Derby somehow connects us, and gives us great pride in the city we call home. At any rate, it's great for our economy, and I can raise a mint julep to that--if I dared try one.
Photo: Churchill Downs