Horse racing: My Fair Lady or Guys and Dolls?

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In Victorian England and in the tribal world of the desert, horse racing was upper crust. Aristocrats (shades of My Fair Lady), dressed like Lords and Ladies, mingled at the Royal Ascot and Bedouin princes (shades of Lawrence of Arabia), dressed in flowing, white robes, sped across the sands on horses that were treated like royalty. When horse racing came to America, owning race horses was for the rich and priviledged. Gentlemen wagered between themselves on the outcome of the races, hoi polloi placed bets with touts and bookies.

All horse racing tracks, Churchill Downs or Emerald Downs, have high and low brow options. If you pay enough and follow the dress code, you too can hand your car keys to the valet, sit in a Turf Club box seat, eat shrimp tempura, drink Mint Julips served in tall, frosted glasses, and watch the races through the long lens of your binoculars. Or you can ride in from the outfield on the Doodah Express, queue up in the grandstand for $9.00 beers and jumbo hot dogs, dodge strollers and toddlers, and lean in at the finish line with the railbirds as the horses and dirt clods fly by.

Low brow or high brow, on Kentucky Derby Day, you can pretend you’re at the Ascot Races in East Berkshire. Even in the grandstands, people are dressed to the nines: women in dresses, seductive shoes, and oh those hats; men in pastel summer suits, bow ties and straw hats. Can’t think of another sporting event that features women in flirty skirts, colorful wide-brimmed hats and stilleto heels.

Beautiful people at this year’s Kentucky Derby Day at Emerald Downs in Auburn.

I think he is wearing this ironically.

Sixty ago, horse racing, baseball, and boxing were the only sports that mattered. Common folk cheered for Secretariat and participated with the wealthy in the excitement of watching a $2.00 bet come in at 6-1. Today, while TV ratings for the Kentucky Derby have risen steadily, the sport is on the decline. Tracks, both small and large, close every year due to the fall off in patronage, horse racing’s shrinking chunk of America’s gambling dollar, and the complicated learning curve of handicapping. But the track can’t be beat as a sports venue to people-watch and eat a Hot Ziggety Dog. 

And remember: always bet your mother’s name, any number combination of six/one/five, or a grey horse that poops during the parade to post.

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One Response to Horse racing: My Fair Lady or Guys and Dolls?

  1. Kathy says:

    Great post Marla. I loved the pictures.

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