Long about the last week of April I become obsessed with the upcoming Kentucky Derby. It's my Springtime dalliance, my rite of passage, my love of thoroughbred horses that offers a convenient escape. I think, too about the week spent in Louisville some 33 years ago now. I've carefully pressed the sights, sounds, smells, and satisfactions of that experience so that it will last a lifetime. So far, so good.
Yet this year feels different in so many ways. Most likely it's the international tragedy complicated by the recent massive earthquake in Nepal and the current domestic hostility and unrest that centers around the constant battle many inner city residents have with their local police departments.
The Baltimore Orioles actually played a game yesterday with an official attendance of Zero. The media continues to tell only parts of the stories that comprise these complicated and nuanced situations, and lost is the ongoing poverty and deprivation that refuse to yield year after year, decade after decade.
So the trick this year is to use the "most exciting two minutes in sports" to get away, temporarily from the intensity and depression, the anger and fear, the overwhelming sense of desperation that the political and environmental disasters of the past week have wrought.
I always try to link big ideas and events that I experience. The possibilities are sometimes challenging, but always possible. Here we have the promise of a rebirth in this unlikely trifecta. A renewal for people in Baltimore and Nepal and a national ritual for those of us smitten by the strength and beauty of a 3 year old colt running a mile and a quarter for the first time. On another level, all these situations involve violence and confusion. No less than Nobel winner John Steinbeck once called the Kentucky Derby, "the most violent two minutes in sports." Just to clarify for those who might be less familiar with thoroughbred racing, the violence has nothing to do with whips or injuries sustained, although that is a major concern. What Steinbeck was referring to was most likely the bumping and jockeying for position that occurs right out of the gate. Combined with 150,000 screaming people, half of whom are inebriated, and a sound tunnel one jockey once told me was his most unforgettable recollection of riding in the race, you get the picture.
This year I'm supporting American Pharaoh. He'll most likely be the favorite, but that's no matter. he just might be something special. Something to give the Triple Crown a long look. But no matter how special, in the end, it takes a supreme amount of luck to win the Derby. The same kind of luck to survive the randomness of a 7.8 earthquake and returning home safely at night from many parts of this nation.