The 142nd Kentucky Derby

Colton Williams

Louisvillian Hunter S. Thompson famously declared that the “Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” in the seminal article that launched his career and altered the course of American journalism. Thompson became known for (among other things) the keen eye and sharp pen with which he wrote about the world. However, as entertaining as Thompson’s Derby piece is, in typical Thompson style, it’s more fiction than fact.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the premier events in sports, right up there with the Super Bowl and the NCAA Tournament. Celebrities and important people from all over the world come to the Derby – athletes, writers, actors, musicians and politicians are all regulars at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Richard Nixon was the first, and only, sitting President ever to attend the Derby in 1969. While it is an event known for its glamour and pomp, the majority of the 167,227 people in attendance were just regular folks, and that’s what makes the Derby, and horse racing in general, unique. Everyone, whether Richard Nixon or Hunter Thompson, has the same field of horses to look at and bet on.

It’s also unique in that the main competitors are animals, not people. Of course, the trainers, owners and jockeys are people, but no matter how good the human element is, it still takes a special horse in order to win the big race.

Perhaps we’re a little biased here, but where else could the Kentucky Derby be held other than Louisville? It’s the crossroads of North and South. Both President Abraham Lincoln and President Jefferson Davis were born in our great state. What could be more symbolic of our American commonality than that? The two men had irreparable differences and polar opposite ideologies, yet were born within the same walls of land that would become so vital in the war that split the country. The Derby is an event that connects people all over the country and all over the world, and Kentucky seems as good a place as any to host such a race.

Recently, a sorority at Dartmouth College canceled its annual Derby party in response to protesters who said the race is “related to pre-war Southern culture,” and the “Derby was a party that had the power to upset a lot of our classmates.” Cutting a hole into this pristine logic is the fact that the first Derby was held in 1875, which, as Dartmouth students should know, is a decade after the civil war ended. Despite attacks on the Derby and ‘Derby culture,’ in our increasingly offended world, it’s still popular, and this year was no different.

Nyquist, the bluegrass-bred 2-1 favorite to win the race, ended up draped in the rose blanket at the race’s close, making it the second Derby win for trainer Doug O’Neill, owner J. Paul Reddam, and jockey Mario Gutierrez. Nyquist is now a perfect 8-for-8 in his career, with some of his notable wins being in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Florida Derby. Now, he and his team will be looking toward the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, as they try to complete the Triple Crown.

And who better to win it than a Kentuckian?


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