Last weekend, a confluence of very public and intensely private circumstances met when the 148th working of the Kentucky Derby coincided with the 14th-anniversary of my husband’s dying — whereas I used to be at my boyfriend’s home (sure, 78-year-old widows do have boyfriends).
I’m a sucker for pageantry, and thru the years, my husband Bill indulged my odd proclivity by mixing gin and tonics and watching the race with me. My Derby fascination, nonetheless, started lengthy earlier than I met him. As a Polish-Catholic child in New England, I started watching it in my teenagers on my dad and mom’ black and white TV, in all probability to catch a glimpse into a chic world of julips in silver cups and girls in tasteful sheaths and white gloves.
So, for 40 years, Bill and I sipped our drinks, commented on the unfolding spectacle and positioned theoretical bets. Even after he was gone, and the Derby had degenerated into an excuse to put on headgear designed by psychotic milliners, I continued to look at. But, with each passing yr, my curiosity lessened.
On May 7, although, whereas my boyfriend mounted dinner, I occurred to stroll by his examine and spot the Derby was on. So I watched, considering of Bill, and nonetheless grateful for the person within the kitchen. But I knew nothing: not the names of any of the favorites nor of the jockeys. I simply sat and listened to the prognosticators: Who would win? Epicenter? Definitely a contender. Zandon? Very presumably. Messier? Can’t depend him out. All of it mumble-speak to refill airtime.
Meanwhile, down across the paddock, the hats had been zanier than I remembered from occasions previous. And the crowds appeared extra raucous, extra intent on capturing a grinning selfie than watching the horses being saddled or the jockeys submitting out of the altering room.
What hadn’t modified was the astounding self-discipline of these courageous, athletic males as I watched them reply one inane query after one other from journalists, then pose graciously amongst their rivals for the normal group image, and at last hoist their slight frames onto thousand-pound animals who will thunder at practically 40 miles an hour round a observe not a lot wider than the Jones Falls Expressway.
Nor had the horses modified. All Derby horses are thoroughbreds, born to run. But they have to be skilled to race. Like the eyes of soccer gamers submitting out of a locker room on Super Bowl Sunday, these of the horses I noticed that Saturday held an inward sentience: They had a job to do, and the noise, the gang, the overall hoopla, none of that mattered. What did matter? Winning. And solely successful.
What adopted subsequent validated my decades-long, quirky Derby obsession. What adopted subsequent was a triumph of hope.
Emily Dickinson wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers,” an attractive poetic paean to hope’s irrepressible nature. With all due respect to the Belle of Amherst, nonetheless, I have to disagree. After that Saturday, for me, hope will not be the factor with feathers; hope is the factor with hooves. Out of nowhere, a horse that hadn’t received a single race, and a last-minute substitute as well, a horse named Rich Strike that drew the quantity 20 pole place and needed to thread by way of a throng of 19 others, first on the skin, then to the center of the pack, and at last to the within the place it found an equine interior engine, received the primary jewel of the Triple Crown.
Will Rich Strike win the second jewel at this yr’s Preakness in Baltimore later this month? I definitely hope so. Just as I hope that the stalled multimillion greenback redevelopment plan for Pimlico Racecourse receives a much-needed jump-start. And that the Stronach Group, proprietor of Pimlico; and the Stadium Authority, the physique deciding on the mission’s engineers and designers, get “shovels … into the ground” as they’d pledged to do two years in the past, when Maryland offered $375 million in state bonds to fund the mission. And that the leaders of Baltimore and Maryland acknowledge that horse breeding and racing are industries with wealthy histories, and that they might as soon as once more flourish and supply jobs in the event that they obtain the fitting imaginative and prescient and help.
Is this loads to hope for? Yes, it’s. But why not hope? More wondrous issues have occurred: On a wet Saturday night, a 78-old widow held recollections of her husband and arms along with her boyfriend, and watched as a terra-cotta horse named Rich Strike raced his coronary heart out and galloped into historical past.
Patricia Schultheis is the writer “Baltimore’s Lexington Market,” a pictorial historical past of the market, and of “St. Bart’s Way,” an award-winning story assortment based mostly in Baltimore, and “A Balanced Life,” a memoir. She may be reached at email@example.com.