Tomorrow afternoon is the 137th running of The Kentucky Derby- the great American horserace that most people under 50 don't give a damn about. But why? Horse racing is cool and weird and exciting, and even though a lot of the TV and magazine coverage focuses on underdogs, favorites, and how X amount of money needs to be put down to win Y amount of money, you don't have to throw down hard cash to enjoy all that this event has to offer.
The first thing you need to know is that all the horses that run the Derby are total freaks of nature, usually inbred from other racehorses to maximize speed and stamina. They're spectacular to see in person (or on tv), but don't let the rippling muscles fool you- just like a pro wrestler or young boxing champ, there can sometimes be a psychotic beast just underneath the surface. Here are some of this years more intriguing competitors:
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The race itself is as freakish as the horses. At 10 furlongs (1.25 miles), the distance is much further than what most of the horses have been asked to run before (most preparatory races top-out at about a mile- racing young colts farther can be dangerous.) If that's not tough enough, the Derby is also a 20-horse race, making for a much more congested and physical field than any of the horses are used to. During the race, it's not unusual for the horses to run lines that they've never run before, or for jockeys to discover qualities about their horses that they've never seen before (this can be either be good or very, very bad.)
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Finally, like many other traditional American events, the Derby calls for any number of things to drink and wear. The classic mint julep cocktail (bourbon, mint, and sugar) is fine if you want to play by the rules, but if you think that you're ready to go the distance with your chosen horse (that sounds wrong, but I'm leaving it), here are a few suggestions for boozing it up in style:
Best of luck!,
Special thanks to John Saward for the help in researching.
To read some things about this years Derby from people-who-actually-know-things-about-racing, I recommend:
Joe Drape at the NY Times
Greg Wood at The Guardian
Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic
The Left at the Gate blog
Jason Shandler at Bloodhorse.com
Matt Gardner at And Down the Stretch they Come