- Any sporting event can be turned into a social event when you spend more time in the parking lot outside the venue eating, drinking, and playing games than you do inside watching.
- A sporting event in which you are generally disinterested becomes all-consuming for two minutes when you have cold hard cash riding on it (pun intended).
- Mocking overdressed twenty-somethings as they stagger back to the parking lot, carrying their ties and stilettos, is a sport unto itself.
My Kentucky friends know all about Keeneland, but for those of you in places where thoroughbred horse racing is merely an interesting setting in a movie (Secretariat was filmed at Keeneland), let me enlighten you. We have two major tracks in Kentucky: Louisville's Churchill Downs (of Kentucky Derby fame) and Lexington's Keeneland. Keeneland is open year round for off-track betting, but they only hold races on site twice a year, a three week meet in the spring and another in the fall.
The Keeneland Fall Meet is in full swing. Because it is a limited engagement, people flock to the track in the thousands, and because many young Kentuckians fancy themselves members of the horsey set, they dress to the nines. Then, they get ground-level grandstand seats and drink themselves stupid. The real horsey set is up in the exclusive boxes and party rooms far removed from the unwashed masses.
Although I'm not a serious racing fan (could you tell?), going to Keeneland on a gorgeous October day is a good time. Yesterday, I was invited by my restaurateur friend, Mike, to his first annual Keeneland tailgate party. (We had several moments of debate as to whether something could be called an annual event until it's held for the second time a year later.) Our kids are all good friends, so they came as well, and it was the first time for several of them, including my younger son.
A young man's first trip to the track is nothing if not educational.
Pam's husband, Mike B., walked him through the betting process. He explained how the odds work and how you determine the payoff on a bet. I worried for a moment, and then shrugged it off as a math lesson. My son listened intently, asked a few pertinent questions, and then made his pick...based solely on the name of the horse (which honestly, is how I pick my Derby horse every year). He liked Cajun Pride, and so did I...I think I might have read a romance novel with that name.
I placed a $2 bet for Cajun Pride to win in the fifth and gave my son the ticket. We made our way through the crush in the grandstands to get as close to the rail as we could. The horses are beautiful, and I like to be close enough to hear the pounding of the hooves when they pass.
Again...educational. By the fifth race, the horsey set wannabes had consumed enough beer and Kentucky bourbon to throw conventional standards of appropriate behavior out the window. It's a bit like a frat party with horses and designer clothes. In true sixteen year-old fashion, my son thought it was hilarious.
His attention was diverted by the horses and their jockeys bedecked in their racing silks parading down the track and being loaded into the gates. In spite of my general disinterest in racing, that part is pretty cool. As is that moment when the bell rings, the gates open, and the horses charge down the track. Cajun Pride took the lead with authority. My son found himself screaming right along with the inebriated folk as we watched our horse barrel around the first turn and down the backstretch. Unfortunately, I knew what was going to happen. Very few horses have the endurance to lead wire to wire, and poor ole Cajun Pride was no exception.
Cajun Pride faded in the final turn and came in fourth. Pam's pick, Sudden War, crossed the line first, netting her a whopping $3.80 on a $2 bet. My son looked around, saw the well-heeled drunks throwing their tickets on the ground, and followed suit. It was the only bet we made all day, and we were both fine with that. Another lesson learned.
Our tailgate was set up just outside the rail on the final turn, and we watched the rest of the races from that more peaceful vantage point. The kids played corn hole and tossed a ball around, and the adults kicked back and enjoyed the incredible fall day. Mike worked magic on three small grills, and we feasted on clams, shrimp skewers, rack of lamb, and filet mignon. My educational moment was realizing one should always take a bonafide chef to a tailgate party.
The day wound down with the now disheveled, but still overdressed kids returning to the parking lot. I pointed out a guy in a shirt and tie standing in the bed of his pick-up and attempting to swing from a tree limb to my son.
"You never, ever want to be that guy."
The fellow's friends were trying to coax him into the truck so they could leave. My son pointed at them.
"I never want to be those guys either. I'd wait til he was hanging from the limb and drive off."
I think his friends were contemplating doing just that. Luckily, Security came along, and the guy changed his tune and got in the truck.
So in addition to the aforementioned lessons about sport, my son learned some life lessons as well.
- Unless you have been invited to the horsey set's private boxes, you should wear comfortable clothing to the track. Corn hole is difficult in stilettos and you don't have to dry clean beer stains out of blue jeans.
- You might as well bet the horse with the cool name because the payout on the favorite sucks.
- If you plan to act like an idiot, make sure your friends really like you.