[Our winner, Dan Rice, "with it" through the finish line.]
Early last week I took a chance. All education, even the “continuing” kind a seventy-two-year old undertakes involves risk. So I dove. “Bill, I have a favor to ask. I wonder if you can make the Kentucky Derby interesting to me who knows nothing about horse racing.”
Understand that my friend’s passion is the races. Everyday downloads and printouts of information and the Daily Racing Form is just the start. He is addicted. Why? He’s made a bundle in his past life betting the horses. (And if you can’t imagine the next contrasting sentence, you know less about the races than I do.)
“Sure, I can. And, if you want, I can quickly make the Derby very interesting for you.” We were on the phone, but his lingering over very conjured a green visor and the chomp of a cigar. “I get it. But just educate me a little. Get me interested in the horses.”
He knows my background. He’s read my stories about Dan Rice, the miniature we had in the Royal Lichtenstein Circus. He knows I like horses—as long as horses like the circus as much as I do. But these were horses of a different hue.
And so, I saw and read the DRF for my first time. And I dug into something called Kentucky Confidential which deliberately smacked of inside dope. I became aware of the breadth of racing in the sheer number of events horses had run, their records and such concepts as “herd dynamics, ” “starts,” and “chaos management.” Jockeys became individuals, with real names. And while I wondered in awe about the key individuals names as trainers, the owners’ names meant nothing. For me, the real interest was in the horse’s performance history. And I came away with three horses I cared about: Union Rags, Went the Day Well and I’ll Have Another. They had done well enough to convince some professional observers who in turn attracted me to their stories.
Then I developed a serious cold and gave up on my study. I was in no mood to talk horse racing. Bill was understanding but, knowing that I was down and not likely to make even a three-dollar commitment he’d proposed, left me alone. Sort of. He slipped me the post positions when they were decided; and I knew he went to the betting parlor Friday morning. What I didn’t know, till the next morning, Derby Day, is that he’d made a one-dollar bet for me: on Rousing Sermon. It was a joke; he knows that part of my story too.
Sick or healthy, for the first time in my life, I had to watch the Kentucky Derby. My teacher had succeeded. I endured all the vacuous reporter/owner exchanges, ridiculous hats and posing and tired old “Kentucky Home.” As if on cue, I really cared at hearing “Union Rags is in trouble.” He was crowded. And when “I’ll Have Another” broke late for that finish, I was there like I’ve never been. And I was there when the jockey Mario Guttierez made the Latino sign of the cross and kissed his thumb (with the index finger it makes a cross you know) at his first Derby win on—ya gotta love it—Cinco de Mayo.
And I’ll be back. Watch out Preakness.