Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Drunkards, and Floozies, and Sots--Oh, Why?!?
Don Clippinger of "Thoroughbred Times" opined this week about Churchill Downs' latest faux pas--a contest to see who can drink and debauch "the best." at the Kentucky Derby.
Fire the marketing team.
So I was compelled to write to Mr. Clippinger, in response to his excellent piece about Churchill Downs' latest Bad Idea, that of finding a Chief Party Officer for the infield on Kentucky Derby Day. Oy.
I realized that I should share my letter and my two cents with you folks. Well, you know me: it's more like thirty cents, but you get the drift...
Opening my mailbox, I was delighted to see that the new (April 5, 2008) Thoroughbred Times was waiting for me.
Doing my traditional first flip-through, I was compelled immediately to read your entire editorial, "What Exactly is the Message Here?". Halleluia and praise the Lord, you said it thoroughly, honestly and succinctly.
I could not concur more. I moved to Lexington from Saratoga six months ago: my hope was to be welcomed into the world of Kentucky Thoroughbred writers, perhaps to get a writing job at a publication with the cache of Thoroughbred Times. It hasn’t happened yet, but hope springs eternal.
You can imagine how it killed me to leave my beloved Saratoga, but, as they say—Kentucky’s the place to be if one wishes to write about horse racing. (Or at least to jump-start the career. I can always go back to Saratoga.) The lore, the legends, the spirit of Kentucky racing—tentatively I left My Old Saratoga Home, and came south.
The first thing that comes to mind when the word, “Kentucky” is uttered is the Kentucky Derby, of course. (Even those who know nothing about horse racing and care even less take time out every first Saturday in May to turn on the television and watch the most thrilling (<) two minutes in sports.) The event itself inspires tears in the eyes of the most hardened of hearts. The pageantry, elegance and beauty of the event in toto remind us every year that yes, this sport is singularly unique in all the world.
I’ve attended the Derby only once thus far, in 2005. I trekked to the sacred ground with two friends, Kathie and her mother, Claire (a fan since 1948, when Citation won her heart and lifelong devotion). We were blessed to sit in the front row of Section 117, at the rail. It was the best day of Claire’s life, and—so far—mine. We had a great time—a bourbon devotee, I consumed three Mint Juleps. It was unthinkable to attend the Kentucky Derby and not imbibe in the traditional beverage, at least a nip.
But after the race. Oh, after the race. As we stood outside the gates of Churchill Downs and were besieged by the hordes of drunks streaming out from the infield—our day was diminished. A thirty-something man tripped, fell and in so doing nearly knocked Claire to the ground. He threw up on the sidewalk directly outside the gates of Churchill Downs, and on my shoes. It’s doubtful that he remembers his Derby experience: we will never forget. The thought that this ugly scenario is played out 80,000 times over every year is beyond comprehension.
That Churchill Downs is encouraging this behavior is inexcusable. To encourage 80,000 people to drink themselves blind and indulge in sexual misconduct that would make a sailor blush is not only irresponsible—it borders on the illegal. A bartender in any Louisville tavern would be fined and fired for allowing just one patron to act out in this manner, and to leave the establishment blind drunk. The thought that Churchill Downs is actually conducting a contest, to find the person who drinks and sexually indulges “the best”—is not representative of this sport. It’s a slap in the face of the horses, their connections and the fans who truly love Thoroughbred racing—the real fans, those of us who’ve stuck with the sport through lean times and fat times.
I’ve tried, to no avail, to get four good seats for this year’s Kentucky Derby. I started trying, and applying, last September. No luck. Four good seats, oh, how I’d love Section 117 again! But I can’t get tickets, so even though this is my first Kentucky Derby as a resident of the Commonwealth—I’ll have to watch it on the telly, as in every year past except 2005. And the thing that upsets me the most about this is that I truly love this sport. It’s my passion. I’ve been a fan for 48 years. I write about the sport; spend every spare moment with horses and horsepeople; and evangelize for the sport, bringing new fans to the fold. I, a true fan and professional in the sport of Thoroughbred racing, can’t get good tickets to the Kentucky Derby, unless I want to join the throng of drunks and trollops in the infield.
And that which enrages me about this concept is that…as far as Churchill Downs is concerned…I’m not as important as those who don beer hats and Hooters t-shirts, pulling two twenties from their cleavages, smiling dopily through dull, sodden eyes. Churchill Downs seeks a Chief Party Officer—mistakenly thinking that drunks can somehow magically be transformed into race fans. How, I ask you, can they fall in love with a sport they cannot see because they’re lying face-down in the turf, covered with divots carved by four-inch stiletto heels?
It’s a blot on the day; it’s an insult to the horses; and it’s a statement of blatant disregard for those of us who still understand that the Kentucky Derby USED to be the most elegant day in American sports.
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