2010 Kentucky Derby - The Heart of the Matter
(see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)
The Bedouin legend says:
Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse.... Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without any sword
The spirit from that South Wind flowed in the blood of the three foundation stallions of the Thoroughbred breed, the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian (click this link for the coolest pedigree you'll ever see) down through the generations to today's Derby contenders. American Lion is 22 generations removed from the Godolphin Arabian in an unbroken male line that includes two-time Breeders Cup Classic winner Tiznow, the great Man O'War and the first English Triple Crown winner West Australian. Sidney's Candy goes back 26 generations to the Darley Arabian through the great gray Native Dancer and the unbeaten Eclipse. And in between the Derby contenders' pedigrees sparkle with legends of the sport like Secretariat, the famed "Flying Filly" Mumtaz Mahal, Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and the noble English champion Roberto, among many others.
But, as Dan Fogelberg sang
It's breeding and it's training
and it's something unknown
that drives you and carries you home
I can make spreadsheets for days, but a Thoroughbred is more than numbers on a piece of paper. He's desire, heart and that "something unknown". In other words, we can measure a horse's heart, but we can't measure his heart.
At the top of that long Churchill Downs homestretch, what horse will have the speed, strength and courage to win? I wish I knew the answer, but the question itself is why I care about the Derby in the first place. The horses aren't running for money, fame or glory. They run because running is simply what they were born to do. They're more beautiful, more noble and more wonderful than us mere humans.
Back in the 1950s, Sports Illustrated used to send great writers to the Kentucky Derby to get a more literary spin on things. In 1955, they sent William Faulkner to Louisville. He wrote a truly magnificent article and succinctly says why racing matters:
Once the horse moved man's physical body and his household goods and his articles of commerce from one place to another. Nowadays all it moves is a part or the whole of his bank account, either through betting on it or trying to keep owning and feeding it.
So, in a way, unlike the other animals which he has domesticated—cows and sheep and hogs and chickens and dogs (I don't include cats; man has never tamed cats)—the horse is economically obsolete. Yet it still endures and probably will continue to as long as man himself does, long after the cows and sheep and hogs and chickens, and the dogs which control and protect them, are extinct. Because the other beasts and their guardians merely supply man with food, and someday science will feed him by means of synthetic gases and so eliminate the economic need which they fill. While what the horse supplies to man is something deep and profound in his emotional nature and need.
It will endure and survive until man's own nature changes. Because you can almost count on your thumbs the types and classes of human beings in whose lives and memories and experience and glandular discharge the horse has no place. These will be the ones who don't like to bet on anything which involves the element of chance or skill or the unforeseen. They will be the ones who don't like to watch something in motion, either big or going fast, no matter what it is. They will be the ones who don't like to watch something alive and bigger and stronger than man, under the control of puny man's will, doing something which man himself is too weak or too inferior in sight or hearing or speed to do.
To me, that's the beauty the Kentucky Derby. It tests the horses, but also celebrates them with the kind of pageantry and bold actions such creatures deserve. As Faulkner said, they may not move our bodies anymore, but they still have the power to move our souls.
Posted by kris at April 26, 2010 11:59 AM
The trackback entry for this page is : http://www.inthehat.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1831
|# April 26th, 2010 11:35 AM kris|
1. I love that Faulkner story, but the part about man being fed by synthetic gases is kinda weird, right?
2. The best part of the Faulkner article is the start:
This saw Boone: the bluegrass, the virgin land rolling westward wave by dense wave from the Allegheny gaps, unmarked then, teeming with deer and buffalo about the salt licks and the limestone springs whose water in time would make the fine bourbon whiskey; and the wild men too—the red men and the white ones too who had to be a little wild also to endure and survive and so mark the wilderness with the proofs of their tough survival—Boonesborough, Owenstown, Harrod's and Harbuck's Stations; Kentucky: the dark and bloody ground.
Damn. I would die to write something 1/8 as brilliant.
3. I love how nearly every article about the Godolphin Arabian mentions his cat, Grimalkin.