I went on a weekend adventure with Madame J and two women I’d never met before, The Divine Ms. M (no, not that one, a different one) and Not Kathy-Sue. We ended up road-trippin’ down to Kentucky and visited various fun-nesses in Lexington, Louisville, and Corbin, KY. And while all this was tons o’ fun, the Main Event for me was getting to be at Churchill Downs for the running of the 136th Kentucky Derby.
This in itself is a pretty milestone event. Even people who aren’t horse people like this race. Hell, forget like—they KNOW about this race. For non-horse people, that fact alone is pretty big. For example, I finally got tired of seeing the blank stares when I tried talking about Rolex or the World Equestrian Games while we were at the KY Horse Park, which are two big horse events that only horse people seem to know about. (Though, Madame J and the Divine Ms. M did nod politely and make the appropriate “ooh” sounds when I explained what they were. Not Kathy-Sue was a once-upon-a-time horse person, so she knew the equestrian references.)
Before I get into being at the Derby, let me recognize up front that there are lots of horse people who are against racing. They don’t like the age the horses are made to compete at (before they finish growing), don’t like the injuries that are associated with racing (breaks, extreme stresses on growing bones), don’t like the chaos of the horses breaking from the starting gate (cruel methods of getting/keeping them in the gate until the bell, injuries from crashing off each other out of the gate), the list goes on. Some of them might even be Most Highly Respected Anonymous Readers, and if so, I appreciate the support. But those folks who want to get uppity about me attending a horse race can suck it, b/c I was pretty damn amazed to wander through those most hallowed halls of horse racing.
Men and women dressed in some of the most beautiful, garish, and expensive-looking outfits I’ve ever seen. I saw more fake boobies and hooker heels than when I visited Vegas. But next to the horses, the hats were the most impressive things there. There were women that looked like they’d just walked out of a Parisian fashion catalog. Others looked like a flock of pheasants had died a horrible, exploding death on top of some frilly chiffon. You’d totter down the walkway, dodging pimpadelic men puffing their cigars and wobbly fashionistas cupping their fifth mint julep, and there’d be nothing but feathers and necklaces and, of course, fake boobies, all of which seemed to be intent on devouring their next victim.
In case you haven’t been, I’ll let you in on a few things you can vicariously mark off your Bucket List or make a note to do, regarding the Derby:
- Try a mint julep. If this drink was made with rum, I’d still be in KY betting on horse #5 because HIS name starts with a “D” and MY name starts with a “D,” too! But it’s not. This drink is apparently made with bourbon, the sweat of jockeys who lost their races previously in the day, and the crushed dreams of homeless children. With mint.
- Visit the raucous entertainment of the Derby track infield. This is a good thing to do if you’re a college student. I, alas, was about 7 years too old to enjoy it properly, and I was the youngest of our quartet. Here you found the Budweiser tents and the Pizza Hut stand and the turkey legs, while nearer the paddock area you could only find burgers and hot dogs, mint juleps, and fancy red drinks in a stemless wine glass. There was mud everywhere, and every now and then you’d see some brown person who you were pretty sure hadn’t been brown before they’d come to the infield. We didn’t see any naked people, nor anyone having sex, but then we were also only there for about 10 min. We did hear lots of yells, get random high fives for answering them, and wander aimlessly. If you heard a feral-sounding WHOOP! you had approximately five seconds to quickly move away from whatever mudpuddle you were standing next to or else risk a splattering as the WHOOPer face planted in it.
Myself and Madame J took a picture with some feisty-looking super heroes, I walked around barefoot with my flip flops in my souvenir bag trying to hold my (poorly-planned) WHITE skirt up high enough to keep it from getting muddy and simultaneously not flash half the crowd, and The Divine Ms. M made a fast friend. Some pathetic-looking college kid in an unfortunate plaid sweater, holding a quart-sized plastic baggy with what was left of some brown liquid wandered up and asked to be her friend. He informed us that he was “one baggie plastered,” asked where The Divine Ms. M was from, and then wandered off again. We promptly turned around to go back to the paddock area where we could look at drunk people who could at least afford a drinking glass.
- Watch the horses run in person. Unless you are willing to spend the ridiculous amount of money it would take to get a seat in the stands, which is the area you usually see on the TV airing of the Derby, you are not going to get near enough to the track to watch anything actually run on it. My group crammed with about a thousand other people into the paddock area to watch the races on the racing monitor. That’s right. We paid $40 to watch the race on a ginormous big screen TV. This irony was not lost on us.
What was pretty awesome, though, was hanging around the paddock area and seeing the horses and jockeys walk down the chute to get tacked up. Because our group used our feminine wiles and crafty intelligence to weasel our way to a spot near the fence, we were no less than 5 ft. away from most of the horses that ran that day, including Super Saver, the 2010 KY Derby winner. He truly is one of the more magnificent horses I’ve seen in real life.
- Wear a big fluffy hat. Technically you could really do this without going to the Derby, but I will say that if you do ever go to the Derby yourself, wear a hat. Otherwise, you’ll feel like a complete fool. You won’t look like one, but you will feel the peer pressure of Derby-hat-wearing, and it will make you feel small and insignificant. Not Kathy-Sue didn’t have a hat, but only because she’d already decorated hers with flowers for when she goes to see the Preakness on May 15 (lucky bastard), and the flowers for each of the races is different.
Overall, it’s all about the experience so much more than the racing. The people watching—including the Brave, the Beautiful, and the I’m-Pretty-Sure-I-Just-Got-Eye-Syphillis—, the drinks, the excitement that you’re part of a massive crowd that’s all pretty much waiting for the same 2-minute event. It was amazing and totally worth going. Even if your nice dress gets muddy or you break a heel and have to gimp around for the rest of the afternoon. Even if your mint julep tastes like horse pee and cilantro. Even down to the final stretch, when you see your #1 bet just get dusted in the final turn, but it doesn’t matter because you and thousands next to you are screaming at a horse and jockey who can’t hear you to “Go! Go! Go!”, even though you don’t remember who that lead horse’s name was because you didn’t bet on him and you can’t properly pronounce the jockey’s last name because you’re not using the right accent. It’s all worth it, and I can’t wait until I get to do it again someday.
*I will try to post more pictures as I find them.