That’s the title of a sports article written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1970. His account of the annual horse race held in Louisville, Kentucky (Read Here) is not so much a commentary on the race itself, but of the drunken celebration that surrounds the event. This year I set out to find out first hand the level of decadence and depravity that takes place inside the legendary race course, Churchill Downs. So pour yourself some Bourbon and let’s take it back to May 6th where I got to participate in the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.
The night before the big race I sat in my friend’s (and host’s) kitchen table struggling with my New York accent to pronounce the city like a local. No many how many times I tried, I just couldn’t properly extend and blend the vowels, to the amusement of her and her daughters. Saying it right now a month later at my New York kitchen table, I still can’t.
I went to sleep that night with that giddy excitement you experience so much less in life after finding out Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy don’t exist. But that morning we awoke to gray skies and a grim forecast, and all I had were the flip flops I wore on the plane and the Jimmy Choos I packed in my suitcase.
We set off at 10am on a race of our own, running into every store in the area for rain boots. It seemed the entire city of Louisville was sold out (shelves literally clear), as people more calculating than us had gone on their rain boot run the previous day. When we were close to giving up we got a tip that a sporting good store had just gotten in a Hunter Boot delivery. We gunned it over there and joined the other ill prepared women, all of us ripping through boxes like we were searching for the Golden Ticket. Both of us lucked out and we found boots in our size, and on sale. Crisis averted.
There’s an expression I hear quite often when I travel to the south and it’s, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
There we were, all dressed up from the feathery fascinators on our head to the rubber soles on our feet, and we took a few steps out of the house and literally the clouds started blowing away revealing bluer and bluer skies. By the time we reached our destination, it was clear it was going to be a beautiful day for a Derby. The sun was shinning AND we got the excuse to wear ridiculously comfortable footwear. It was a win all the way around and we hadn’t even placed our bets yet.
As we joined the masses heading into Churchill Downs my eyes feasted on pure spectacle, I didn’t know where to look first. Within ten minutes of being there I knew Decadence was certainly an integral part of the day, that’s something you can bet your seersucker suit on. Upon that easy adjective confirmation, I immediatly sought out my first Mint Julep on the hunt for Depravity.
This was my one and only Mint Julep. Yes, it is tradition and you absolutely should try one. And then you never have to ever again.
Now that the first order of tradition was done, we needed to place our bets at one of the many Wagering Windows at the track. Always having a soft spot for the underdog I was gunning for Patch, the one eyed horse that was racing, because how could you not want a half blind colt with a name like Patch to beat the odds? I wasn’t alone, over $2 million dollars were waged on his very unlikely win. (Read more about Patch)
As we went up to the box for the start of the race there was a hum of excitement you could almost feel vibrating in the track. After hours of cavorting with the most decadent and drinking my way to depravity it was finally time for what they call “the greatest two minutes in sports” and our seats were right by the finish line.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened in those hundred and twenty seconds, it was all a blur and I got lost in the adrenaline and wild cheering of the nearly 160,000 people in the crowd. The entire day that was a slow build of a buzz and anticipation was over so suddenly I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Almost immediately after the last horse crossed the finish line everyone ran for the exits like the place was on fire. It was as illogical as the fact the most expensive seats I ever sat upon were folding chairs.
My horse Patch finished 14th, but the real winner of my heart was this guy with the twirling horse hat. As for will I be back to the races in 2018? Well, there’s Always Dreaming.