In this time of new normals I experienced a first this Saturday. I was awake for hours and just having a normal socially-distanced Saturday before I remembered exactly what Saturday it was.
It was the First Saturday Day in May. Kentucky Derby Day.
It was at least 1 p.m. before I realized it was the Super Bowl of horse racing. I was shocked. Obviously I had an excuse since the Derby wasn’t running due to the pandemic but still, I was amazed. I am a native-Kentuckian for god’s sake.
Like someone splashing cheap Tennessee whiskey in my face, I rocketed out of my chair and jumped right into my blue Seersucker suit and flipped on NBC’s coverage of the (non) event. As the comforting images of Churchill Downs greeted me, Melanie, also a Kentuckian, springing into a dress and big hat, yelled (screamed with terror?), “We’re out of bourbon!”
I passed out. Just kidding, I quickly passed my fingertips across my keyboard and ordered some Woodford’s Reserve (the official sponsor of the Kentucky Derby) from Martin’s Wine Cellar. When I received the email saying our order was ready I roared out of our driveway like Barbaro (RIP) thundering down the stretch and was back in a flash (thankfully we live very close to Martin’s) and we were raising a glass to Kentucky like one does on the First Saturday of May.
To be honest, it almost felt like it was a real and that was before the bourbon kicked in. NBC was showing the now historic 2015 Kentucky Derby in which American Pharoah ran his way into the nation’s heart. For those who live under rocks, American Pharoah would win the Derby and then the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, thus, becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Aside from the virtual Kentucky Derby that would pit all 13 Triple Crown winners against one another, NBC didn’t try anything fancy. They just perfectly played the day’s events like they happened. They showed some races on the undercard, all kinds of celebrities and great moments from the past like St. Martin Parish’s own Calvin Borel’s win atop Mine That Bird. They kept updating the odds and talking about the big two horses in the race — Pharoah and undefeated Dortmund. Obviously in retrospect we knew how it turned out but it is a bit fascinating to watch pundits try to figure out who will win. You could feel thousands of folks getting excited about the undefeated Dortmund, who would finish third on the day.
For horse racing lovers, watching a flashback Kentucky Derby also was interesting in seeing how the “also rans” did on this momentous day. While co-headliner Dortmund got the press on this day, in reality he would never win another Grade 1 Stakes after his Santa Anita Derby victory. His biggest headlines after this day would be placing behind California Chrome in a couple of big races. However, there was Frosted at 15-1, who showed some class in finishing fourth. Frosted would hit the board in his next four races and, in 2016, win the Whitney, albeit against less than stellar competition, but paychecks are paychecks folks. More interestingly, was a horse you could’ve got at 42-1 on Derby Day, the horse named Keen Ice.
Keen Ice didn’t do much at the Kentucky Derby but would shock the nation of few months later at the Travers Stakes in Saratoga. It was a day where the world eagerly watched American Pharoah’s return to racing after winning the Triple Crown but Pharoah couldn’t hold off Keen Ice in what some refer to as the fourth gem of the Triple Crown. Keen Ice chased down Pharoah in the stretch (and bummed out the public in the process) as well as Frosted and the former year’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile winner, Texas Red.
It was fun to watch NBC’s telecast even though it wasn’t the real thing. Yet, even though the telecast wasn’t “real,” I assure you the tears were when they sang, “My Old Kentucky Home.” To put it more precisely, Melanie, through tears said, “It’s ironic that I cry every time they sing the part, “Weep no more, my lady.”
This year’s Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled to September.
The Virtual Derby
The day’s events all led up to the Virtual Derby, where viewers could “bet” on the winner by donating to coronavirus relief efforts. It was a great idea and hopefully one that spurs more virtual sports efforts (like the NBA 2K Players’ Tournament) to raise money for important causes.
I guess in an effort to make the “race” legit there was a lot of talk of all of this work that went into creating the race with historical input and blah blah blah everyone knew that Secretariat was going to win. I mean come on y’all. If Secretariat is in a race, Secretariat is going to win.
At our house, Melanie picked Secretariat and I took a shot by picking Count Fleet, a speed demon of a horse whose 25-length victory in the Belmont Stakes was a record until, you guessed it, Secretariat’s 31-length win. Count Fleet did take off like I knew he would and led most of the way but would fade to mid-pack as the legends stepped to the forefront with Secretariat surging down the stretch in front of Citation and Seattle Slew.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Booze Pairing: The Mint Julep
Playlist Recommendation: Jamiroquai – “Virtual Insanity”
Around The Way
Speaking of sports and video games, check out this video of Wayne Gretzky facing off against Alex Ovechkin in this NHL 20 battle for charity. Gretzky is especially funny to watch because he sort of has the “I’m not sure exactly what is going on” look in his eye. The game match raised $40,000 for Coronavirus relief. Cheers to that!