Yes, I’m back from England, and I promise I will take up where I left off writing about my trip, even if after the fact, but for now I hope readers will forgive a momentary American digression (and the word play. Couldn’t resist.)
Yesterday was the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby, and Derby day is a small ritual for me. My father, who died in May of 2003, loved racing. For a number of years when I was growing up, my parents owned a second home in Arkansas, and we always caught a part of the thoroughbred racing season in Hot Springs, and sometimes the Arkansas Derby, one of the big prep races for the Kentucky Derby. My father wasn’t a true gambler; he made a small carefully worked out bet on each race because he liked to study the form, and if he came out ahead at the end of the day, he considered it a bonus to the pleasure of the outing. From him I learned to study the horses in the paddock, and to stand at the rail at the finish, as close as I could get to the smells and sounds and motion as the horses tore by.
And I was a horsey child, fed on Black Beauty and Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind, dreaming of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion, photos of Man of War and Secretariat taped to my bedroom walls. Then in my teens (when the horse pictures came down and the rock stars went up) I discovered Dick Francis, an irresistible combination of horses AND mystery, and thereafter bought every new release to share with my dad. My father never managed to get to Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses, but we always watched the Derby together, and the Preakness, and the Belmont, and against the odds we always hoped for a Triple Crown winner.
I’m both sorry and glad that he missed yesterday’s race, for it was glorious and devastating: Big Brown, the favorite, romped across the finish as if he’d been for an outing in the park, and looks as if he might be the first horse to capture all three races in thirty years, since Affirmed took home the Crown in 1978. But Eight Belles, the only filly in the race, finished a game second, then broke down and collapsed on the track. Both her front ankles were fractured and she was immediately euthanized. My father would have felt the loss of this beautiful horse deeply, as do I, but he would have looked forward to the next two races with undimmed enthusiasm, as will I.
And in the meantime, if I decide I prefer Pimms No. 1 Cup to mint juleps, and if I occasionally slip up and say "darby" rather than "derby", a little cross-cultural confusion only adds to the fun. (And I can wear a silly hat at a horse race on either side of the Pond.)