(Guest post by Ginger Monka)
I'm in a dilemma for Kentucky Derby Day this year. I've always made an event of the Kentucky Derby and probably have the world's largest collection of Kentucky Derby hats and mint julep cups for someone who's never actually attended the race but only watched in on the telly. But, this year, my dear friend for nearly 40 years is having a 50th birthday party that day in another part of the state. (Her birthday was in March but the party is on Derby Day, go figure)
For most of my life, there's been no dilemma; any time that Dad and I were in the same city, getting together to watch the Derby and sip mint juleps was a given. Dad wasn't particularly a horse fan or a racing fan, but he spent his adolescence in Louisville, so the Derby was special. One of my favourite stories of his youth involved the only time he was a live spectator at this event, when he sneaked into the infield through a hole in the Churchill Downs fence. Since Dad was the most punctilious arbiter of exemplary conduct I've ever known, this anecdote made him more human and accessible to me.
The first Kentucky Derby I remember, I was rooting for a horse named No Robbery. Research shows that this was the 1963 Kentucky Derby, won by Chateaugay, while No Robbery finished fifth. (Google is a wonderful thing, n'est ce pas?) I was following Dad around the yard while he did yard work while listening to the pre-race festivities on a transistor radio. When he harvested the mint for the juleps, he gave me a sprig to chew and I was amazed and entranced that this wonderful flavour, heretofore linked only to Christmas candy, was in a plant that grew in the yard.
One Derby day, the year after college graduation, the minister brought me a Siamese kitten (there was a long-running supply of same, due to one prolific queen with a tendency to escape; a number of the kittens ended up in our family). Said kitten had not yet been named by post time. After the race, (1982), Dad and I concluded that the only conceivable name for this kitten was Gato del Sol, the same Gato del Sol mentioned in this post.
Dad passed eight days before Derby Day three years ago. His memorial service was the evening before, and quite a few family members were still in town over the weekend. A bunch of siblings and step-siblings assembled in the motel room to watch the race and even those in family who ordinarily don't do mint juleps did that year, in honour of Dad.
The following year, Joel and I were in Lexington for Dad's Jahrzeit on Derby Day, very lucky to have found a motel room, since it incidentally happened to be UK commencement day as well. We watched the Derby in the hotel bar, where, although, alas, no juleps were to be had, the race was on and most spectators rose for My Old Kentucky Home.
I have mixed feelings this year. The tragedies of Barbaro and Eight Belles demonstrate that a race horse's quality of life isn't what I would hope and that breeding for speed at the expense of strength isn't such a great idea. There's the conflict with my friend's birthday party. And yet...I'll go to the party but try to get home in time to do the Derby ritual. And as a Plan B, find a sports bar between there and here that serves juleps.