The first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in River City, Kentucky, always offers a fleeting shelter from the barrage of distressing news that assaults our senses. As the week progresses toward the 2014 “Run for the Roses,” the news purveyors tell us repeatedly of a litany of bad developments.
There is warranted outrage over racial slurs by a National Basketball League owner and a controversial remark about Israel by the U. S. Secretary of State. While these foot-in-the-mouth incidents were boiling over, tornadoes killed at least 26 people in several Southern states, a madman shot six others and then killed himself at a FedEx facility near Atlanta, and Russia continued to menace the Ukraine.
We learn that the U. S. economy grew by a paltry one-tenth of one percent in the first quarter and pundits on CNBC and elsewhere persistently warn us that the stock market may be in a bubble.
Meanwhile, a bubble of another kind, a marvelous illusion, is forming in Kentucky, as it has since 1875, presenting the opportunity to time travel to the simpler “good old times” that really never were simple.
The make-believe ambiance for the Kentucky Derby is an anachronism, a Twilight Zone escape hatch for people seeking relief from the vagaries of the larger world. Folks are able to strut in the latest spring styles, sip watered-down and overpriced mint iuleps, sing a sanitized version of a song crafted by a gifted but troubled Yankee, and debate the pros and cons of barely 3-year-old racehorses, just as previous generations did. “Can he get the mile and a quarter?” or “What is a furlong?” are about as deep as the banter gets.
The Kentucky Derby is certainly not immune to controversy. In 1968, the winning horse was later disqualified for testing positive for a mild pain killer that was banned in Kentucky at the time. In 2008, the Eight Belles breakdown cast a pall over the race. This year, the prospect of a trainer winning the Derby who was recently the subject of an undercover PETA operation is not a pretty outcome.
However, if things go as hoped for, Kentucky Derby festivities and the race will proceed smoothly and spectators at Churchill Downs and on television will be able to recharge their inner beings in preparation for Monday morning, when their world gets back to 21st century reality and all its intrigue and travail.
Cashing a nice ticket would top off a marvelous Derby day, but if you don’t, that’s not even a blip in the scheme of things. Besides, you have experienced the best day in all of sports.
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