The week of the Kentucky Derby, a man with a thimble has container enough to carry off all the common sense in town.It's wonderful. Where else do the maids, making up your bed, wear jockeys' silks? At noon, office fugitives stand on a downtown street to see a horse race on a two-story-tall cuckoo clock. Daniel Boone rides one of the horses, rifle at the ready to plug anyone who despoils Derby Week by telling the truth or behaving properly. Not that there's much chance of either.
"These two gentlemen of the turf passed on to their reward," said a sage named Mike Barry, a newspaperman here who often is credited with the invention of the Derby 105 years ago. "Not knowing their destination, the gentlemen were uneasy at first Then they heard the call to the post and they saw the possibility of a financial investment.
"The field of horses was without fault. There was Citation and Equipoise and Man o' War. And they are not the all of it. Seabiscuit has been flown in for the race. So, too, had Stymie, Assault, War Admiral.
"Surely, the gentlemen of the turf decided, this was heaven's Kentucky Derby. Their blessings were many. Never had mortal man been witness to such a race. And the odds!
"The odds flashing on the tote board were incredible. War Admiral 20 to 1, Man o' War 25 to 1, Citation 50 to 1. None of the classic runners showed odds less than 20 to 1 and the gentlemen of the turf, digging deep into their pockets, knew this was the time to get even for their earthly calamities.
"There came the announcement, "Two minutes to post time,' and the gentlemen decided quite cleverly to leave no possibility uncovered. They would make an investment on the performance of each and every horse. At such odds, they could not lose no matter which horse won. They imagined a trip to the parimutuel windows followed by a wait in the smiling line, where they would, after all their suffering, get even with the game.
"Where are the windows? One of the gentlemen asked of a bystander.
"There are no windows,' the bystander said.
"'What?' the gentlemen said in unison.
"'Yep, that's the hell of it," the bystander said."
The people who put on the Kentucky Derby often call it "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports." They talk in capital-lettered words. They don't get many arguments, because few sports events last only minutes, yet those witnesses who use the Derby as excuse to send truth on vacation will leap onto the nearest soapbox to sing further of the race's merit.
We present Heywood Hale Broun, the boob tube's man of many coats, he of the acrobatic vocabulary, full of graceful spins. Besides a closet stuffed with jackets kaleidoscopic in color and design, Broun owns race horses. That alone is sign he has lost some of his buttons. Proof certain came the other night when he spoke of the Derby.
"Sports is a shared delusion," Broun said, "and we all share the delusion that our game is important."
"Oh, how cold type fails us. We need a film and voice-over here, for Broun's delivery is the stuff of drama, his words rising and falling in concert with the wiggles of his mustache and cavorting of his eyebrows. What a hero he would make, finding poor Pauline lashed to the railroad tracks and doing play-by-play on his rescue of her.
"A shared delusion," Broun was saying. "It has always amazed me, for instance, that car salesmen and insurance dealers in the Midwest . . ."
Eyebrows up. ". . . think the Ohio State-Michigan football game is important."
A smile, the voice rising, "And they, in turn, are amazed to learn that bankers, Communists and homosexuals think the Yale-Harvard game is important."
Now the train is rumbling in the distance. "But the Kentucky Derby, ah, here is a sports event where the whole world shares the delusion.
"On the streets of Paris, Frenchmen stop their strolling. Drums beat in Africa, spelling out a message. Lamas will stop turning their prayer wheels, and successors to Chairman Mao will put down their chopsticks and ask, "Who won the Kentucky Derby?'"
Pauline, if not truth, is saved! And the shared delusion of the Derby lives! Small wonder there is in the lobby of a hotel here a horse made of gold foil, a horse 10 feet tall and wide enough to carry the Trojans through the gate. Howard Cosell may believe the Derby was created to keep him busy when football season ended, but the overwhelming evidence is the Derby exists just so Anita Madden can throw a party.
Anita Madden is famous and infamous in the Bluegrass. The wife of a Lexington horse breeder, she puts on a party for 1,000 people in the circus tent on Derby Eve. The theme is usually erotic, which may or may not be coincidental to a woman made rich by the sexual habits of horses, and last year's bash was a symbol of what the Derby can do to you.
Twin blonds of astonishing proportion wore nothing but three tree leaves while they swung from trapezes attached to the tent's roof. They were guarded by 6 1/2 -foot tall black wrestler in a gold bikini. One guest arrived in a chastity belt, another came in steel-studded, black leather (carrying a bullwhip) and a distinguished racing official wore his King Kong outfit.
"Isn't the Derby fun?" the chastity belt said to King Kong, who replied, "Where's your key?"