The Kentucky Derby felt different this year, and it wasn’t just that COVID-19 meant it was four months late with empty grandstands. Watching with my kids, I was at pains to explain exactly why people race horses, and how thwacking them with a riding crop “helps” them go faster. Even more disturbing were the post-race interviews. I get that horses can’t talk, but largely ignoring the sentient being that actually ran the race, while acclaiming the trainer and jockey seems a bit like celebrating the plantation owner and overseer for growing the cotton.
All of this is a drag, because I’ve always really enjoyed the pageantry around the derby. I’ve bonded with strangers in the supermarket getting ingredients for mint juleps, and teared up listening to “My Old Kentucky Home” on the car radio as I rushed to my girlfriend’s house watch the race.
My unease with the whole event really started in 2008, after Eight Belles collapsed and died on the track after finishing second in the 134th Derby. It’s been a while coming, but next year might finally be the time to sing the song, make the drinks, wear the hats, eat the pie… but not watch the ponies.