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Carroll County Times

Commentary: A day at the races, a great way to spend a day

First Call. First Call. First Call!

First Call may better be known, in context, as the "Call to the Post," the horse racing signal that all mounts should be at the paddock exit in order to proceed to the track to begin the post parade.

This Saturday marks the first Saturday in May, or Derby (Satur)Day, and the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Cue-up "My Old Kentucky Home."

Shake-up a Mint Julep (or three).

Gents, dress-up in your dandiest seersucker (striped), poplin (corded) or linen (lightweight) suit, gingham (checkered), tartan (plaid) or chambray (lightweight, blue) shirt, brightly-colored (bow)tie and loafers or saddled-oxfords (sans socks).

Ladies, show-up, strapless, your springiest (sun)dress, "super-cute" heels and of course your loudest, biggest, bowiest bonnet.

The Triple Crown. (Horse racing) The proclaimed "Sport of Kings" brought to the masses so that all can behold an infield full of royal lushes.

Coined as "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports," the Derby itself, the actual race, tends to be lost within the spectacle. With winning times for the mile-and-a-quarter race clocking-in at a nose over two minutes, you can euphemistically blink and miss the race itself.

But with the tradition, fan-fare and fashion inspired by and surrounding the Downs' famed Twin Spires, Derby Day itself is hard to miss.

Sure, locally we have the Preakness Stakes. But every year's images of the Derby become more and more contrasted against the literal backdrop of the Preakness' Pimlico home.

Television coverage and camera angles of the Derby's Downs home is broad-sweeping and wide-angled, showcasing and taking-in the beauty and spectacle of Louisville's mecca to horse racing. In contrast, NBC's producers cringe every time.

By necessity, they must cut to a wide angle shot of the horses going into the third turn at Pimlico, exposing the Preakness' economically depressed, urban surroundings.

Even the people seem prettier at the Derby.

Baltimore does its best to play host, and those at the Preakness do play the part. But for the folks in Kentucky, the clothes seem to fit better and to be worn more naturally. Whereas, in Baltimore, the outfits seem more costumed than customary or complimentary for that matter.

Maybe it's the bourbon? Bourbon after all makes every party better. The Derby's classic Mint Julep is bourbon-based, whereas the Preakness' Black-Eyed Susan is made with vodka (and pineapple juice?). Sure it is named after the state flower. But, and with its vodka (fun) punchy ingredients, the name sounds like what (or who) someone may wake-up with the day after the Preakness.

Again, lost in the sartorial spectacle of it all is the actual sport itself, including its world-class athletes - the gorgeous thoroughbred horses.

If you really want to enjoy a day at the races-and I highly recommend that you do - and if you must do it locally at Pimlico, go to the Preakness light, the Black Eyed Susan Stakes (Day), the Friday before the Preakness.

It's all the fun, with a fraction of the lushes (or the hats).

Or pick a random day, one in the middle of the week, or a non-descriptspring or summer Saturday (assuming they're running) and go.

A horse track without the crowds is a great place and way to really watch and thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the horses. And, if gambling is your game, you can get your fix all day at the track for less than $20.

I'm not really sure why horse racing as a spectator sport is in decline, especially in Maryland.

A day at the races, is, well, is a great way to spend a day (weather permitting). It's how I would imagine it's like spending a day in the outfield at Wrigley Field, watching the Cubs and drinking an Old Style - only if you could place a $2 bet every 45 minutes.

Maybe this will be the year another horse wins the Triple Crown, doing so for the first time since Affirmed in 1978.

This could be the year, at least that's what we'll hear-and that's what will be hoped for-for the next few weeks at least.

For now, shake-up your Julep. Dust-off your seersucker.

Zip-up your date's dress.

Pony-up a few dollars for a friendly wager.

Cue-up the chorus.

And enjoy the Derby and Triple Crown season.


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