Let me tell you something about the Kentucky Derby. I hate the Kentucky Derby. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate horse racing. I actually enjoy the two-minute race. I just hate the entire day of Southern genteel-infused folderol wrapped around the race. The broadcast repeatedly refers to it as “pageantry”.
Is it pageantry to see a bunch of rich people wearing daffy-looking suits and dresses, silly hats and corsages? Is it pageantry to champion the drinking of mint juleps, a completely unpleasant beverage even by most alcoholic’s standards? Is it pagantry (sic) to dress up what is essentially an enterprise built on the exploitation of animals for entertainment and profit?
I don’t hate horse racing but I recognize it for what it is. It’s a seedy sport where a bunch of little guys in jodhpurs ride horses around a muddy track. Hundreds of horses die on the track every year. Many jockeys are injured each year being thrown off their horses. The behind-the-scenes people who succeed in that kind of environment are cutthroat players. The most successful horse trainer of this generation literally looks like Will Ferrell’s Ashley Schaffer from “Eastbound And Down”.
Let’s not dress up such a brutal sport with ribbons and flowery hats and call that pageantry. We could be talking about dogfighting in a different world if only few things had gone different. Imagine if the Governor of Kentucky presented a million-dollar check and a big trophy to the winner of a prize dogfight.
You know the first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875? Amazing! Ulysses S. Grant was President, Sitting Bull was still alive and we were in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, a.k.a. the beginning of the Jim Crow era. In other words, black people had just been freed but not, y’know. . . not the white people kind of free. They still had to work for white people and serve them. And it’s a mighty white scene at Churchill Downs on Derby Day unless you’re working at the track or Von Miller. And let’s not forget the infield, otherwise known as the giant field party adjacent to the track where tens of thousands of people are drunk, stoned, FUBAR, hooking up on Tinder or having a name like Travis or Jimbo. Ask them if calling a racist racist is racist in itself and they’ll probably say yes.
Because a lot of money is to be made and the Kentucky Derby is the biggest horse race in the country, a lot of dressing up has to be done to bring in the casual viewer. Regular horse players know it for what it is but a casual fan needs celebrity, pomp and circumstance, a sense of occasion. . . PAGEANTRY! TV, movie and sport stars on the catwalk and in the stands. The men wearing silly looking suits with prom corsages, the ladies in silly-colored dresses wearing big dumb hats with bouquets on top. All of them with mint julep in hand. And what would have been just another day at the track becomes a television event that does great ratings, bringing in a lot of ad revenue for the TV networks and attracting a lot of casual bettors online as well.
In a way, looking at the so-called pageantry of the Derby is like wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers in that it was never meant for you in the first place. You weren’t supposed to be there. It would take all the magic in the world for you to fit in with everything around you because you don’t have the resources to make it happen on your own. But there is no Prince Charming. Instead there’s Charles Barkley, some SNL cast member, the quarterback from the Chicago Bears and the cast of The Voice and wouldn’t you like to know which horse they picked to win? What kind of party is this anyway?