This was no ordinary homecoming. This was a do-or-die attempt to lay the ghost of years of rejection from the horse-rearing elite and the literati who sat in those privileged boxes overlooking the track and those unprivileged craven hordes who grovelled around the centre-field where he had suffered as a boy.
The clubhouse as I remember was worse, much worse than I had expected. It was a mess. This was supposed to be a smart, horsey clubhouse, oozing with money and gentry, but what I saw had me skulking in corners. It was worse than the night I spent on Skid Row a month later, back in New York. My feet crunched broken glass on the floor. There seemed no difference between a telephone booth and a urinal; both were used for the same purpose. Foul messages were scrawled in human excrement on the walls and bull-necked men, in what had once been white, but were smeared and stained, seersucker suits, were doing awful things to younger but equally depraved men around every corner. The place reminded me of a cowshed that hadn’t been cleaned in fifteen years. Somehow I knew I had to look and observe. It was my job. What was I being paid for? I was lucky to be here. Lots of people would give their drawing arm to be able to see the actual Kentucky Derby which was now hardly an hour away. Hunter understood and was watching me as much as he was watching the scene before us.
Something splattered the page I was drawing on and, as I moved to wipe it away, I realized too late it was somebody’s vomit. During the worst days of the Weimar Republic, when Hitler was rising faster than a bull on heat, George Grosz, the savage satirical painter, had used human shit as a violent method of colouring his drawings. It is a shade of brown like no other and its use makes an ultimate statement about the subject.
‘Seen enough?’, asked Hunter, pushing me hastily towards an exit that led out to the club enclosure. I needed a drink. ‘Er… one more trip to the inner-field Ralph I think,’ I heard Hunter say nervously. ‘Only another half-hour to the big race. If we don’t catch the inner-field now, we’ll miss it.’ So we went.
While the scene was as wild here as it had been in the clubhouse, it had a warmer, more human face, more colour and happiness and gay abandon – the difference in atmosphere between Hogarth’s Gin Lane and Beer Street. One harrowed and death-like the other bloated with booze but animal-healthy.
Who would have thought I was after the gristle, the blood-throbbing veins, poisoned exquisitely by endless self-indulgence, mint juleps, and bourbon. Hide, anyway, behind the dark shades you predatory piece of raw blubber.
The race was now getting a frenzied response as Dust Commander began to make the running. Bangles and jewels rattled on suntanned, wobbling flesh and even the pillar men in suits were now on tip-toe, creased skin under double-chins stretched to the limit into long furrows that curved down into tight collars.
Mouths opened and closed and veins pulsed in unison as the frenzy reached its climax. One or two slumped back as their horses failed, but the mass hysteria rose to a final orgasmic shriek, at last bubbling over into whoops of joy, hugging and back slapping. I turned to face the track again, but it was all over. That was it. The 1970 Kentucky Derby won by Dust Commander with a lead of five lengths – the biggest winning margin since 1946 when Triple Crown Champion, Assault, won the Derby by eight lengths.
‘I think it’s time I was thinking of getting back to New York. Let’s have a meal somewhere and I can phone the airline for plane times. What day is it, we seem to have lost a weekend. I need a drink.’
‘You need a lynching. You’ve upset my friends and I haven’t written a goddamn word. I’ve been too busy looking after you. Your work here is done. I can never come back here again. This whole thing will probably finish me as a writer. I have no story.’
‘Well I know we got a bit pissed and let things slip a bit but there’s lots of colour. Lots happened.’
‘Holy Shit! You scumbag! This is Kentucky, not Skid Row. I love these people. They are my friends and you treated them like scum.’
Ralph Steadman- The Joke’s Over
The Kentucky Derby and the Slow Death of Horse Racing
By Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic
May 3 2012, 12:31 PM ET
This dark and stormy Derby week, there is no other way to put it. These are dismal days for horse racing in North America. We once said, in the grandstands and along the backstretches, that all horse racing needed to reassert itself onto the American sporting scene was a Triple Crown winner. But the last 3-year-old colt to accomplish that task was Affirmed in 1978. And that means that a third of a century, an entire generation, has come and gone without such a champion. In the meantime, chaos. The great gaming monopoly that once was horse racing has devolved into a rudderless mess.
All across the continent, from Ontario to Kentucky, from Maryland to California, the industry and the sport are under siege. From venal legislators, who have raided gaming coffers to cover their own budgetary failures. From the politically connected gaming industry, which sees horse racing as a mere nuisance. From underfunded and lazy regulators, who are more concerned about securing their own patronage than they are about enforcing the rules. And from cheating owners, trainers, jockeys, and drivers, who are laughing at the rest of us as they deposit their ill-gotten gains.
No matter who wins, every racing fan everywhere mostly prays that none of these beautiful animals (or any others) get hurt on Saturday. Remember Eight Belles? She was the filly who raced a brave second to Big Brown in the Derby in 2008 before breaking down on the track. I hosted a Derby party that year and there were maybe half a dozen children watching that race. They were rightly horrified by Eight Belles’ on-track death and I daresay that none are likely to ever want to see a horse race ever again. That’s why horse racing has to do much more to better protect the horses.
That protection begins and ends with the vices and failings of the human connections who surround every racehorse. Although there is a healthy and continuous debate within racing about the efficacy of the drugs that are lawfully given to horses, the fact is that the pervasive use of such drugs (not to mention the illegal blood-doping ones) has had a devastating long-term impact upon the horses. We breed them for speed, we push them to race early, and then we have the nerve to pump them full of drugs to hide their ailments or to make them run faster.
There is no excuse for this, on any level. The owners are to blame for permitting their trainers and veterinarians to give drugs to their horses on such a scale. The trainers are to blame for putting their financial interest above the interests of their horses’ welfare. The veterinarians are to blame for allowing themselves to be used as instruments of the horses’ destruction. Track officials are to blame for not taking seriously their obligations to ensure the safety of the horses. And regulators are to blame for not punishing even the obvious offenders.
The reason all these people so often don’t do right by their horses is because the horses are perceived as fungible property rather than as the irreplaceable centerpieces of the sport. Insiders lament the breakdowns but perceive them to be exceptions to the rule. The problem is, the public doesn’t see it that way. To the lay person, each and every breakdown is proof that racing is a brutal and violent sport and, just as importantly, that the humans in charge of it aren’t doing enough to protect the horses. The cumulative effect of that perception has severely damaged the sport’s reputation and the industry’s ability to attract new fans.
There is no carrot and no stick-no economic incentive to play fair and no fear of swift and severe punishment for transgressors. It’s a system where integrity is talked about more than it is practiced, where everyone blames everyone else. Track officials blame the regulators for not enforcing the rules. Regulators blame legislators for not giving them enough statutory power. Defense attorneys hired by the alleged transgressors are allowed by state judges to make a mockery of the justice system-often delaying suspensions until their clients are ready to take their vacations.
No one wants to be regulated. No one wants to give up what little power and control they have over their corner of the industry. And too few, clearly, are willing to spend the money it would take to increase the pace of drug testing and enforcement or to aggressively market and lobby for the sport in bold new ways. Folks will pay millions for a nice colt. But they won’t pay millions to save the sport. The industry talks and talks and talks. And its leaders ponder incremental changes when great strides are desperately needed. In the meantime, too many of the fans, owners, and bettors have gone.
It’s not rocket science. It just takes will. And sacrifice. And humility. And money. All it would take for the sport to give itself a fighting chance for the future would be for stakeholders to hold each other, and themselves, more accountable. You can’t grow horse racing today without ensuring the safety of the horses. You can’t ensure the safety of the horses without limiting the drugs in the sport and punishing the cheaters. And you can’t market any of it until potential fans realize that the industry takes its responsibilities seriously.
Hmm… remind you of anything?
If you want to you can watch Kentucky Derby coverage from 11 am ET (on Vs. where it actually started on Wednesday) until 7 pm (on NBC, where they spare you the pre-race hype until 4).
I suppose this is good thing since you can hardly be expected to follow Horse Racing unless you’re a tout or plunger in one of the few forms of gambling deemed socially acceptable (as opposed to Poker, which is not gambling at all) and 2 year olds don’t have much of a record to handicap.
It’s really mostly an excuse to wear hats that would be rejected from a 5th Avenue Easter Parade or Royal Wedding and get tanked up on Bourbon that is best sipped with a soda chaser and not muddled up with mint.
- 4 cups bourbon
- 2 bunches fresh spearmint
- 1 cup distilled water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar
|To prepare mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves. Wash and place in a small bowl. Cover with 3 ounces bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in paper toweling. Thoroughly wring the mint over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times.
To prepare simple syrup, mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of distilled water in a small saucepan. Heat to dissolve sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.
To prepare mint julep mixture, pour 3 1/2 cups of bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the bourbon.
Now begin adding the mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste-generally about 3 tablespoons. When you think it’s right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to “marry” the flavors.
To serve the julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) 1/2 full with shaved ice. Insert a spring of mint and then pack in more ice to about 1-inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to 1-inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Serve immediately.
Post Time is 6:24 pm ET.