Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Derby




It's Derby week, which, for me, signifies the beginning of six weeks of obsession with horse flesh and very small men.

My grandmother got me into it. She sat in her pleather recliner in front of the TV glued to the Kentucky Derby pre-game, motioned for me leave off reading Old Yeller to join her, and then yelled non-stop for the finest two minutes in sports. "Go to the rail! To the rail! Pass him on the outside!" She was so uncharacteristically excited I found myself breathing in little gulps worried she might have a heart attack, or I might.

Horse racing meant it was okay to get all worked up to a lather. Grown men in bowler hats got so pumped they pumped their firsts through their hats with joy; I learned that from old movies. Beauty does this to a person. Though it's ugly side is well documented, horse racing is gorgeous.

Those Michelangelo bodies, the speed, the finesse, the surging forward of a horse nobody had considered, the ability of the jockeys going 45 miles per hour to thread a needle attached only by their thighs to a huge animal that by rights should leap the rail and run off into A Thousand and One Nights.  But no. Like Alexander the Great and Bucephalus, like a centaur, like the Pimlico Racetrack mascot; they become for fleeting seconds, manimal.