I’ve been to the horse racetrack once in my life – with Graceface at Monmouth Park, NJ about two years ago on a very hot summer day – and I remember it being a fun time as we picked out names at random and wagered a few dollars here and there. I won a few bucks back but also lost some, so I walked away pretty even although the overpriced concession stands did their damage to the wallet. A horse racetrack, at least the one in Monmouth, is not the high-class romantic scene that you may have seen in various Hollywood movies or read about in prewar novels. The crowd was more bowling alley and Atlantic City casino than the whiteshoe, mint julep sipping WASPs of a Fitzgerald story. But nonetheless, it was interesting to be in a place where connoisseurs of thoroughbreds gathered for entertainment and moneymaking.
This past weekend was the Kentucky Derby. Although I’ve never really learned much about horse racing, I’ve always been excited by the couple of minutes that the Triple Crown races bring. I’ve usually caught one of the three races each year for the past five years, and I’ve found the sport very fan-friendly in that you can easily attach yourself to a horse and cheer it on even if you’ve only heard about it a few hours earlier. Such was the case for this year’s Kentucky Derby, the 132nd. I happened to be at home with my family in New Jersey on a lazy Saturday afternoon, so I convinced my mom and grandma to watch the race with me.
“Mom, when the names come up, just pick a horse’s name that you like and remember it’s number,” I said.
My mom seemed uninterested at first but she decided to go along with it and chose Jazil, at 22-1 odds, who was assigned to the first post. I decided to go with Sinister Minister, at 8-1 odds, since I like names that rhyme and, more so, names that have a bit of irony. After an hour’s worth of backstories about the jockeys and the trainers, during which I sat in the living room and ate kimchi jigae and sam gyup ssal with my grandma, the horses finally lined up at their posts and the race was ready to begin.
My mom and I found ourselves standing up and only a few feet away from the television, trying to spot our respective horses. Jazil was lost in the thick pack early on but Sinister Minister, known for his lightening fast starts, was out in second. I knew, from the prediction of announcers, that my horse would most likely fade out in the backstretch, but it was exciting to cheer on for the first minute of the two-minute race. I was happy to see my mom getting into the race as she quickly forgot about Jazil and cheered on Sinister Minister with me. As the horses rounded into the backstretch, my mom and I watched with fascination as Barbaro, the 6-1 favorite, pulled away from the pack to finish with a resounding victory. Not the photo-finish of a thrilling race, but an impressive and enjoyable race nonetheless.
There’s something very pure about the racing form of sport. Sure there are unique rules that come with any sort of race, but once the gun sounds off, anyone can pretty much follow who is winning and losing. And because the Kentucky Derby – at a little over a mile long – is such a short race, you don’t need any patience to enjoy it. For all the sophistication and complexities of professional sports these days, it’s nice to be a spectator to something that can excite without having to think too hard.