Tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby. The beginning of the Triple Crown. For those of you who don’t follow horse racing, the other two races, each of which is about two weeks after the other, are the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
I love the pre-Derby show, especially the Hat Parade. It’s the only American event in which the wearing of a hat is de rigueur. It’s like a trip to the glamorous past. I’d love to have a closet full of hats and the opportunity to wear them. But I just settle for my gardening hat and remind myself that I bought it in St. Maarten. It adds to the mystique of gardening for me.
And, of course, I love the opulence of the Derby because it’s the beginning of the Triple Crown. The horse that wins has the hopes of most of the racing world pinned on it. There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since 1978 when Affirmed won. It's a chance to see history being made.
And to go along with this much hype and history, each race has its signature drink. The Derby has the Mint Julep, which is my favorite of the race drinks. (I mean who wants to drink something called The White Carnation?)
But it’s not the drinks or the hats or history that entices me. It’s the near perfection. I’ve never been able to resist it. I remember watching Mariano Rivera pitch long before I fell in love with baseball. (Okay, I’ve never fallen in love with it. But I do like to watch the Yankees play.) I’m fascinated by Mariano's ability to throw a perfect pitch over and over.
It’s the same with horse racing. I watch them exit the chute and see the excitement in their eyes. As they pound around the track their muscles and sinews straining, I know I’m seeing something rare and amazing. Creatures doing exactly what they’ve been created to do—and they know it. And sometimes a horse breaks free from the pack and pulls ahead. Striding forward and forward so that every other horse is left in the dust and I know that the performance is as close to perfection as I’m likely to see on the earth. And it’s a giddy, almost solemn thing.
Writing is like that sometimes. As I write, the words spill out as if a glass has been filled too full. And it’s as if I’m the transcriptionist, not the writer. And I feel as if I’m doing what I’ve been created to do. To paraphrase Eric Liddel, the famous Scottich Olympian, “When I [write], I sense His pleasure.”
I think that’s why the horses run like they do. In some manner, even as animals, they know they’re doing what they’ve been made to do. And that’s a drug unlike any other. So tomorrow I’ll be watching my fellow creatures do what they do—part of me will delight and part will think “I’ve got to go write.”