If you like pomp and circumstance, nobody does it better. Those who enjoy drinking and gambling refer to it as their Super Bowl. Excitement seekers flock to the window first, and then to the rail. The Kentucky Derby is one of the great treasures in our society. The first Saturday in May is a holy day.
Whether you sit in millionaires row or drink a million cold beverages on the infield, being at Churchill Downs is divine. While the crowds at a NASCAR race might be equally rowdy, and certain golf tournaments provide women the opportunity to dress up and be among the socially elite, no event combines classes like the Run for the Roses.
Unlike car racing where a man steers a machine, and golf where players nicknamed The Walrus, and The Duck have won major titles, horse racing pits supreme athletes going all out to win.
Are there problems with the Sport of Kings? Yes, there are many. Between renegade trainers and owners, drug problems, conditions at some minor league tracks, and a lack of oversight and strong governing body, it is very possible that the glory days are long gone.
There has not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Last year's Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another never made it to the starting gate at the Belmont. There was a time that boxing, and horse racing joined baseball as preeminent sports in the U.S. Now, Derby Day is about the only afternoon the sport is relevant to many American's.
That being said, while you sip a mint julep and listen to My Old Kentucky Home, I dare you to keep your eyes dry. World class athletes surrounded by fans from every walk of life who for two minutes become fixated on the ultimate test, who is faster, grittier, has more desire, and is guided in the most tactically efficient manner.
Imagine any other sport unfolding in two minutes in front of 150,000 people from every walk of life. Kickoff, all the scoring, all the strategy, and the final play all in 120 seconds. Every shot, pass, foul, and whistle in less time than the average commercial break. Corporate suits and college kids mixing together organically.
One of the great thrills of the Kentucky Derby is the excitement you can get from it regardless of where you sit. If you are at the track and have a dog in the fight, it is an unparalleled experience. If you're at a party with friends and you draw straws and the person who has the winning horse has bragging rights, that gives people a vested interest too. Whether you handicap for days, or pick a horse with a funny name, the Derby can be whatever you make it out to be.
Buy your fancy hat, or your low brow beer. Take a limo, or stumble to the couch. It's Derby Day. The horses are approaching the starting gate.