By Don Stuart
---- — I used to live in New Albany, (where the tourism bureaus of Clark and Floyd counties still refer to the area as “The Sunny Side of Louisville”), and I worked in downtown Louisville. This gave me the somewhat unique opportunity to write the preceding 45 words, thus knocking off the toughest paragraph of any column, the first one.
Working in Loovll (honestly, you MUST pronounce it in just one syllable to have ANY hope of being accepted by the natives) also gave me the opportunity to experience the dazing fun and frivolity leading up to The Kentucky Derby.
This of course includes sippin’ a mint julep, admirin’ ladies wearing spectacularly gaudy headwear, and mockin’ men sporting nauseatingly gaudy sport coats. I purchased one such alarmingly multi-colored jacket back in those days in order to blend into the Derby scene, and much to my wife’s chagrin, she has never been able – and will never be able – to sneak it out of the closet and into the pile of stuff going to Goodwill.
I’m wearing it right now, in fact, to help set the mood for the following compendium of Kentucky Derby Trivia – factoids you can recite to your friends and family on Derby Day, perhaps multiple times without them remembering, if you serve strong enough mint juleps.
What IS a julep anyway? “Julep” is a word meaning “sweet drink,” and indeed, the juleps I recall were rill swite (that’s the Loovll way of pronouncing “real sweet”). But not as swite, perhaps, as a special version being marketed to this year’s Derby-goers; besides the bourbon, they’ll contain hand-crafted ingredients with a rose theme, including rosewater and muddled rose petals, all presented inside a box made from bourbon barrel staves and lined with luxurious fabric. Oh, and they’re served in a custom-engraved, gold-plated cup. Cost: $1,000.
The purchasers of this beverage may not simply be people whose brains have been over-dazed by spectacularly gaudy headwear. The proceeds from the julep sales go to an organization that cares for retired racehorses. So it’s money well-spent. Plus it comes with a coupon for 10% off the dry-cleaning of alarmingly multi-colored sport coats upon which the drinks will be spilt.
If you go back far enough in the mists of time, you’ll discover who the heck drove you home after you enjoyed a Derby Day mint julep (because you are of course much too smart to drink and drive). You will also discover that the Kentucky Derby could have been known by a completely different name.
The story goes that the Kentucky race was named after a British competition called The Epsom Derby. This was called a “Derby” because the Earl of Derby, who co-created it, won a coin flip for naming rights with his co-creator – both wished to name it for themselves. This gent was named Sir Charles Bunbury. That coin lands opposite side up, and I’m sitting here in my alarmingly multi-colored sport coat writing about The Kentucky Bunbury.
Speaking of names, did you know that horse-racing regulations require that no race horse can have a name containing more than eighteen letters? This is because names any longer would be cumbersome on racing sheets (also known as tip sheets, racing forms, and, my personal favorite, dope sheets). These publications, as everyone knows, are seen clutched in the hands of racetrack-goers the world over, and make every horse-racing experience more delightful because they contain the complete lyrics and script to “Guys and Dolls.” (“I got the horse right here/His name is Paul Revere. . .”)
When you peruse the names of all the horses that have run The Kentucky Derby, there are some real winners. Including, incidentally, “The Winner.” Which, unfortunately, it wasn’t – it placed 7th in 1896.
Then there was Clyde Van Dusen. Clyde Van Dusen was a Derby winner trained by Clyde Van Dusen. (Note to editor – NOT a typo! Do not correct!) Yep, in 1929, the winning horse had the same name as his trainer. The horse Clyde was so named because the human Clyde won a coin flip over naming rights with the horse’s owner, Herbert Bunbury. (Okay, actually Herbert Gardner.)
I don’t think I’d ever want a Derby winner named after me. I’d hate to suffer the fate of the human Clyde Van Dusen, whose Wikipedia entry is 15% shorter than that of the horse Clyde Van Dusen.