Pure Heart

Many of you may know this, but there’s a little some horse race upcoming called the Kentucky Derby.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that my own impressions of the Derby are largely colored by one Hunter S. Thompson, whose essay The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved I heartily recommend.  There is something highly interesting to learn about our culture by studying a sporting event that puts millionaires in thousand-dollar suits and their impeccably-breasted trophy wives in three-foot hats up in a box while, a few stories and a few dozen yards away in the infield, there’s a bona fide Mardi Gras atmosphere with drunk girls flashing their boobs at appreciably drunk frat boys.

But then they dress it up by soaking it in bourbon and running a bunch of million-dollar horses through the middle of it.  I can relate to at least half of that.

I’ve never been a horse person.  My dad was, certainly…there’s an infamous family story about my dad signing up to ride in a rodeo event but, since he was under 18, my grandparents refused to sign a waiver for him to enter…but I’ve never really been around horses and so I never learned to ride.   (Don’t feel too bad for me, I developed a fascination for these little two-wheeled things to occupy my imagination.)

Still, there’s something about a strong, beautiful horse that appeals to me in some strange way that I can’t explain.  I still don’t feel a need to ride one, but watching them is like art and music together.  Tie in all the pageantry, the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” the call to the post, and I find myself tuning in every year.

This year will be hard, after the horror of watching Eight Belles go down last year – I started to briefly describe it but the memory is too horrifying – it will be difficult to watch with those thoughts churning in the back of my mind.  But every few years there comes a big, beautiful, proud horse that runs like a vision from Greek mythology and captures my imagination.

The real test of these, of course, was Secretariat.  I’m too young to have seen him run, but even seeing the videotape astounds me.  To watch him pick up speed like no being made of flesh should be able.  I read William Nack’s Sports Illustrated article, Pure Heart, some time ago in a collection of sportswriting and it’s never ceased to surprise me with how moved I am each time I read it.

Twenty horses will show their pure hearts this weekend.  I’ll be watching.


7 Responses

  1. I am a horse person, and I’d give a lot to go to the Derby in person sometime. In a gigantic hat and a hideous pastel suit.

    That’s the way to do it.

    Unless you’re in the infield, in which case it’s whatever outfit you wouldn’t mind getting dirty, crushed in a mass of people, and/or possibly vomited on.

  2. I’ve never had much interest in the Kentucky Derby or horse racing, in general and it would kill me to see any of the horses go down. I can’t watch the replays, I’ll cry and never be able to get the images out of my head.

    I don’t think I can compare the little two wheeled things to the big four legged ones. Like Laura, I’ve ridden both and, just speaking for myself, it’s two completely different experiences and if I had my choice between the two, right this very minute, I would SO take a horse ride!

    It’s that whole animal person thing.

    Heh. Maybe that’s where I’m not so into the horse riding – the whole animal person thing. I’m not really one of those.

    Of course, one of my old hunting buddies in the Midwest, a good friend of my father-in-law, was also killed by a kick from his own horse. That whole mind-of-its-own thing can occasionally be a problem.

  3. I love horses. Never learned to ride one, properly that is, but nevertheless. My mom used to ride horses competitively, and we lived on a farm when I was little, I would have learned to ride too. Always wanted to learn.

    I don’t really agree with horse racing (or dog racing and circuses for that matter).

    I think it would be cool to learn. I just always have other things that I think are worth more for my time and money than riding lessons.

  4. And, I did cry when I saw Eight Belles on the news last year. A friend of mine was watching the Derby last year, and linked to a video on Youtube of it on her blog.

    Hell, I almost cried, and I’m a card-carrying member of the Crusty, Cold-Hearted Old Bastards Union. It was terrible.

  5. I hated that so much last year; I just thought I hope they don’t show it again this year. I don’t think I could take that. We have a semi-fancy race here, the Camden Cup. I’d love to go see it in person someday, but in the meantime, I’ll be watching this weekend too.

    I’ve been to a horse race, once, but it was in July and it was so damned hot that we (my father-in-law and I) ended up paying to sit in the clubhouse – where the AC promptly failed. Eesh.

  6. I usually only watch the pre-show for the derby because I am a horse person, but it always seemed inevatible that an injury would happen and I can’t stand that. Of course last year would be the year that I decided to watch the whole thing. I was at my mom’s and I just started bawling like a baby. I couldn’t be consoled, it was awful.

    Same with Dys. 😦

  7. When I was a kid our neighbor had a horse named Romie. The horse’s pasture used to extend behind our house, and I would spend all afternoon feeding him grass. This horse was older than dirt. He was 2 when my parents bought the house in 1966, and died sometime in the late 90’s.

    I used to climb the fence and hop on his back. And I’d sit up there while he grazed. Because that’s all he did. Graze.

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