Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Weep No More My Lady

So do you know what has 84 legs, weighs over eleven tons, and moves at about 40 mph? No, not the Kardashians, but that's not a bad guess. I am of course referring to the field for this Sunday's Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses, a.k.a. the most exciting two minutes in sports, will take place for the 138th time this Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. It's the first, and arguably the most famous, jewel in horse racing's triple crown, and enjoys the highest attendance of any horse racing event in the United States.

Now I wouldn't pretend to know the first thing about handicapping or betting on horses. I'm a $2 bet man, and I typically just go by the horse with the catchiest name. But this year's field is making even that approach difficult. You've got Rousing Sermon, Daddy Nose Best, Daddy Long Legs, and Take Charge Indy, to name but a few. But I think I have to go with I'll Have Another, which on this weekend undoubtedly refers to the mint julep. The Early Times Mint Julep is the official drink at Churchill Downs all year long, but on Derby weekend they will sell over 120,000 of them in their trademark silver cups. In case you didn't know, a mint julep is basically a giant cup of whiskey on ice, with some sugar water and a few mint leaves thrown in. Good thing the race is only two minutes long, or things could get ugly in a hurry.

Something else you may not be aware of is that racehorse betting uses a parimutuel system to keep things on the up-and-up. What that means is that everyone who places a bet on a race is betting against one another, and not the track itself. The track simply takes a cut, or a "vig" off the top, and sets the odds to be paid to the winners. So the track ownership has no vested interest in who wins the race, removing any incentive to cheat or fix races. Now the trainers, owners, riders, etc., are a different matter. But I'd like to think that a race of this stature, with its pageantry and traditions, would not be subject to that kind of tomfoolery. Of course with 120,000 cups of whiskey in play, who'd notice?

But even if horse racing is not your thing, Louisville is a great "big little city", and this region of the Bluegrass State is particularly beautiful. Pronounced "lew-a-vull" by the locals, it is also known as Possibility City and Kentuckiana, due to the neighboring counties of Indiana included in its metro area. Within city limits alone, you can cruise on the Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating steamboat in the nation; stroll one of the largest historic preservation districts in the country in Old Louisville; view over 13,000 objects from antiquity to the present at the Speed Art Museum; stumble along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail; watch a Louisville Slugger being made at their factory and museum; or visit the Muhammad Ali Center, which tells the story of this city's most famous son. And with over 2,500 restaurants and eateries, the city has established itself as a foodie destination.

You will not find any timeshare rentals in Louisville, however. You can find them in Taylorsville, about 45 minutes away, or Park City, about 1.5 hours away. The latter is the gateway to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world's longest known cave system. Over 390 miles have of caves have been explored, with still more being discovered. Combine this other worldly, underground experience with the down home hospitality of Louisville, and you've got yourself a seriously great vacation.

Well I am off to get a lip-lock on a Kentucky Hot Brown. Never heard of one? Well, it is a open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, that's covered in mornay sauce and broiled until the sauce bubbles and browns. Yum. It was created right here in Louisville at the Brown Hotel in 1926, and was even featured in a 2002 PBS documentary called Sandwiches You Will Like. As a side project to my timesharing travel gig, I am trying to sample each of the 22 sandwiches featured in that film. The Hot Brown marks another off of my "bucket list". Fortunately, there are not as yet any timeshares in St. Louis, and I can continue to avoid the pig ears and snouts sandwich a little longer.

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