By Phil Hecken
So, the Derby’s today. The Kentucky Derby. You know, the “Most Exciting 2 Minutes in Sports.” The kick-off to the triple crown. The Sport of Kings (or is that boxing?). No matter. It’s Derby Day and that means eight hours of buildup on ESPN and then well, two minutes of racing on whatever network owns the rights to the actual race. Probably the Peacock. I’ll have to check. Wanna know how to pick a winner?
In past years, Mr. Lukas has already covered your Kentucky Derby party, your Preakness Silkiness and your Belmont Shooin, so right there you have all you really need to know about the sport, the hoofwear and the spread to break out. It’s all pretty good stuff, actually (the horse racing part, not necessarily the columns — those are spot on). In fact, for years, I used to hit the Belmont (since I live, literally, about 15 minutes away) a lot. Think the last time I went was when Smarty Jones failed to become a triple crown winner. Lots of those these days (remember “Big
disappointment Brown”?). But that’s neither here nor there, as today is Derby Day, so let’s crank up the old ‘way back’ machine and take a look at some of the finer (and not so fine) moments from the past.
I wanted to begin this with a set of photos from Lance Smith, whom you are all going to “meet” in great detail tomorrow. Lance has sent me a few beauties from the Life archives. So, real quick, here’s some Derby bits from Mr. Smith:
There’s a big set of photos from the 1955 Kentucky Derby. Swaps won that year ridden by Willie Shoemaker. It’s mainly fans and colorful characters photos and less actual Derby photos — like these two gentlemen
I like this color photo. That’s the start of the 1959 Derby. The winner was Tommy Lee. (Man, there’s some obvious jokes there and none of them repeatable in polite society.) Again the winner was ridden by Willie Shoemaker. His number was 8 so I think he’s the yellow livery five from the right.
Man, they used to be really blatant about doping in the 1950s — (in fact, Needles won the 1956 Derby). BTW, here’s Swaps in 1955 with Willie Shoemaker in the Winner’s Circle. Finally, here’s a set of photos of 1964 when Northern Dancer won it. Wasn’t as easy to get a good photo back then.
Thanks Lance. We’ll have more from you tomorrow!
Lets break the Derby down into its few basis elements.
The Hats: For many, it’s all about see and being seen. And that means sporting the classiest chapeau, the hottest hats, the largest lid or the tastiest topper you can find. Some are simply stunning. But usually, especially since the aforementioned mint julep is a part of the day’s activities, the choice of headwear is never boring, although frequently what is lacking in taste is more than made up for in original design. Of course, some might say this is the height of douchebaggery. But where else can you wear a funny hat, get liquored to the gills, AND walk away with more bank than you came? Not too many places.
The Silks: Those colorful outfits the jockeys wear? Yup, silks. And there’s nothing purdier than seeing them on top of the ponies on race day. Whether they’re heading for the gate before the race or just breaking on their run, there’s something incredibly beautiful about what can only be described as poetry in motion. When you get a muddy track or an overcast day, the men in silks just seem to burst into magnificent color throughout the race.
The Roses: They call the Kentucky Derby the “Run for the Roses.” Why? Well, because the winning horse gets a shitload of the pungent red flowers. Sometimes they even put ’em on the jockey. They’ve been doing it forever. It’s a nice tradition. Seems like every year the bouquets and blankets get bigger and bigger.
The Steeples: No matter when the race, no matter what the year, there are few landmarks so associated with a single event than the famous steeples at Churchill Downs. And why not? They make a fantastic frame for a shot. They are as much a part of the race as the race itself. Anytime you see a picture that includes this architectural icon, you know it’s Churchill Downs, and you can be pretty certain it’s from The Kentucky Derby.
The Starting Gate: Not nearly as iconic as the steeples, but still an integral part of the race. There is usually a pretty large field in the Derby, and the gate used to be both beautiful and classic. As time progressed, however, it sadly became less classic and more of a corporate billboard. Here’s what it looked like last year. Can they put any more shit on there?
The Bugler: Some call him the trumpeter, others call him the bugler. But no matter what you call him, there is no more anticipated music maker on race day at Churchill Downs than the man in the funny red jacket. Well … maybe the people enjoy a rousing chorus of My Old Kentucky Home more than they do the call to post, but the bugler is the most anticipated
fat man in a red jacket fat man in a red suit in Kentucky on the first Saturday in May.
The Pose: Ah yes. The win. And with the win comes the pose. It’s not unique to the Kentucky Derby by any means, but there’s something about winning the Run for the Roses that makes the win all that sweeter. It’s like the ultimate aphrodesiac right there.
The Red Carpet: Wait…what? This aint the Oscars. No, but that doesn’t mean the really special people don’t get the Hollywood treatment. After all, what would the Derby be without Visa and some Grade B talent to share in the fun? OK — VY looks great in that suit, but really, you have to wonder
lic if he really likes the ponies or the attention. Seriously, are they there to hit the Exacta or just to show off a really nice hat?
The Jockey Room: I’m not sure what exactly they call the place where the jockeys hang out before and after they race. But it is a really cool place where they keep all the silks. So many to chose from. I wonder, do they just randomly pick one or what? “I like this purple one, I think I’ll wear this one today.” No?
The Rail: No photographer worth his salt would take a shot at the Derby without taking one from beneath the rail. It is the classic shot of the race. No matter what the year, no matter what the horse, you can always count on the classic shot perfectly framed by the rail.
The Finish Pole: That almost sounds like an oxymoron or a really messed up European. But in reality, while the horses cross an invisible “line,” they are actually passing the finish pole. Now, the lettering on the obelisk has changed slightly over the years, the grand finale of the race has always been accomplished by crossing the finish line and passing the finish pole. Yep. That’s one sweet sight for a weary rider after the most exciting two minutes in sports.
Enjoy the race today. Throw a party. Make some mint juleps. Wear a silly hat. Go on — you know you want to. It’s Kentucky Derby Day. Take me down, little Susie, take me down.
O NO: OK. The poor Natinals have taken their fair share of grief the past few weeks for uni screwups and general uni shenanigans. Well…we think we fixed that second problem by having them wear blue lids and sleeves. Looks much better, right?
Well…we can’t really fix the home (except for making sure they have all their “O”s), or their “military tribute” unis, but we can work on their roadie. Couple things to fix here. First thing is to get rid of the stupid beveling on the “DC” patch. Then, lets make the outlining on the patch match the white outline on the wordmark. Better. But ya know what? They don’t really even need that white outline at all. Much better. In fact, lets remove the logo creep. Lookin’ better still. OK…it’s much better now, but it’s not quite there. They wear blue caps with that away uni, right? So, let’s make that wordmark blue. What’s that? The “DC” is out of place now? No worries. Let’s get rid of it. MUCH better. Damn close to perfect. OK so, how would that look on the field? This is what they currently wear — so here we go. How bout that? Looks better, no?
Well…maybe not…but it’s a start, right? If anyone wants to come up with a new home uni…let’s see it.
This and That: So you really wanna see Pat Patriot a lot this year, eh? Well, maybe up to FIVE times this year … In case you missed it, we lost a talented artist and sportsman the other day … The Los Angeles Angels were sure impressed with the House that
Ruth $1.5 billion built … Meanwhile, Philly phans are already concerned with the team on the other side of the River becoming overstressed at this early stage of the season … Sweet throwback news — Mariners to pay tribute to ’39 Rainiers: Club will turn back the clock to honor PCL champions — man — dig those unis! … Good news for Comrade Lukas: A plan to replace Soviet-era Russian military uniforms with ones by a leading fashion designer has been abandoned because of a lack of money … Lebanese alpine skier Georges Salameh has been banned for two years after testing positive for cocaine, tarnishing the reputations of the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese skiers … Apparently there’s still hockey going on and the Ducks and Wings are playing each other — some kind of quiz involved there … Because they have nothing better to do at the moment, Congress will introduce legislation to outlaw the BCS — I shit you not … and in more unbelievable news — Usain Bolt totals his car, flips it into a ditch, but is unhurt — until HE STEPS ON A THORN exiting the vehicle.
Caption time: Whatever you do — make sure the swoosh faces the camera! … All current swimming records appear safe now that they’ve outlawed the LZR suit … Rafa appears both confused and perplexed at the ATP’s new floating balls … This is how I frequently have to tab my score for a hole … Hey lady, aren’t you a day early with that chapeau? … Apparently the “Courtesy is Contagious” rules of Moto GP are working … What do you do for recreation? I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback … NOH? … simply shocking that these cheerleaders would be drinking … There’s just something not quite right about this pic … maybe it’s pajamas, softball tops and two away unis? … And not to be left out of the softball club, the Raays busted out the slow pitch duds against the Sawks who were forced
by all standards of good taste by rule to wear gray … Adam Jones has fans? … If Paul Lukas has nightmares — is this how they appear? … Nice pants … Where exactly would you screw in a Coors Light? Why, on top of here, of course … Why hockey is still great — Canes versus Broons — Old Time Hockey
That’s all for today folks. Enjoy the Derby … Watch the playoffs … Dream of purple octopi … Cheers!