They’re lining up to run for the roses again.
The 140th running of the Kentucky Derby finds the grandest race of them all largely unchanged since its inception. Put a little guy on a big horse, sound the bell and wait for them to circle back. Admittedly, horses are doped up these days, and the bloodlines have run a bit thin down the years, though some of the owners might feel the same way about their wives.
Other sporting spectacles like the World Cup or the Olympics — or even, in a down year, the Super Bowl — can seem like an exercise in viewer endurance. The derby comes but once a year, builds up briefly and then tests your heart and vocal cords over a furious two minutes.
Along the way, it’s one of our finest people pageants, a throwback to the heyday of circus and carnival outings. Down on the track, tiny men draped in florid silks climb atop great beasts, holding on for dear life. The scenes in the crowd are nearly as glorious; you can just about smell the unlit cigars, top-shelf perfume and old money. Identifying with the brash and botoxed patrons is a matter of taste, and TV producers’ attempts at narrative tend to leave out the skeletons in the owners’ closets, let alone their barns.
But at some point around midday, perhaps between mint juleps Nos. 1 and 2, you will fall in love with one of their horses.
Until they shoot out of the gate, it’s best to pass the time coming up with horse names, placing hunch bets and gabbing about newly added fashion correspondents Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. (Oh, the outfits.)
For the far-off, the derby is a chance to mirror a bit of that grandstand glamour, to pretend we know how to play the ponies and wear headgear that could ferry a family of four across Lake Calhoun.
Hold on to your drink, your betting slip and be mindful of your neighbors’ hats.
Here they come.
The 140th Kentucky Derby
The race: Post time at 5:24 p.m. Sat., Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky. www.kentuckyderby.com.
TV: 3-6 p.m. Sat., NBC Sports Network.
Local events: Click here.