The Kentucky Derby Is Just a Rich Man’s Daytona 500

Matt Kiebus :: Friday, April 30th, 2010 1:45 pm

The Triple Crown represents the only three days of the year when non-degenerate gamblers pay any attention to horse racing. The three races, The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, will combine to account for about seven minutes of unadulterated racing joy to see which precocious young horse can gallop around an oval first. It’s basically a prim and proper NASCAR event with fancier outfits and classier hooch. What I don’t understand is why is the Triple Crown held in such high prestige?

This weekend will mark the 136th Kentucky Derby; horse racing’s crown jewel. It’s also an excuse for the rich folk to get dolled up in obnoxiously large hats and pound mint juleps (think mojito with bourbon instead of rum). People from across the country will flock to Churchill Downs in Louisville for this true sporting event.

On Saturday the hallowed grounds of Churchill Downs will play host to 12 races and over 150,000 people. The first eleven races are mere pistachios compared to the famous last race of the day. The Derby oozes tradition, the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” is more important than the national anthem. The common attire is that of an outdoor spring wedding. There is something sacred about the Kentucky Derby.

Other than tradition, what separates The Kentucky Derby from the Daytona 500? If you substitute cars for horses, concrete track for dirt, Busch Light for mint juleps, thousand dollar outfits for dollar cut-off t-shirts, and add 498.75 miles its basically the same thing! The only meaningful difference between the two events is one has 136 years of tradition and the other is 50 years young.

The Daytona 500 is essentially a completely unpretentious version of the Kentucky Derby. Lets face it, not many people out there know what its like to own a horse let alone ride one. My equestrian experience is exclusive to riding a pony, shirtless at the age of 9, during a summer block party. Other than that I’ve seen Seabiscuit and thought it was overrated.

Want to know what people can relate to? Driving 90 miles-per-hour on the highway weaving between minivans, Toyota Corollas, and Honda Civics. More people have been pulled over for speeding than scored a goal on the polo pitch. I don’t know the first thing about making a horse go fast, but I do know if I slam my right foot down on the gas peddle I can make it down to the shore in 40 minutes.

An unfortunately large number of Americans know what it’s like to crash a car, a lot fewer know the agony of getting their horse jammed out of the starting gate. I’ve never been a huge fan of NASCAR, it’s tedious to watch cars drive in circles for hours without being borderline pissing yourself drunk. But is it honestly any worse than watching 12 horse races over the course of a day?

One of my theories on why the Kentucky Derby is held in such high esteem is because of the amount of green that is being tossed around. Last year over $100 million in bets were placed on the derby alone. So I guess if rich people like something it immediately becomes classy.

Sure, there is a certain beauty in horse racing that NASCAR lacks. There is a romantic aspect to watching twenty well-bred powerful horses flawlessly zip around a dirt track.

I’m not arguing that NASCAR events like the Daytona 500 should be held in a higher regard than the Kentucky Derby, but it’s unfair to consider one classy and the other classless. At the end of the day drunken idiots still litter the infield at both events. The only difference is some are shirtless sitting in lawnchairs on top of their RVs and the others are wearing seersucker shorts and oxford shirts.

However when it’s all said and done, none of this changes the fact that my most every girlfriend would rather go to the Kentucky Derby and look cute in a big hat.