There has been horse racing all over the world for pretty much as long as humans and horses have been together on this sphere. But there is and never has been any horse race to rival the Kentucky Derby.
Hunter S. Thompson, a Louisville native, called it "decadent and depraved." Others have more genteely called it a rite of spring and the most exciting two minutes in sports. The great thing about the Derby is that there's no need to choose: it's all of the above.
It's a showplace for the one percent who parade along Millionaire's Row and other toney venues at Churchill Downs in duds rarely seen so far from a red carpet. The infield, where anyone with $40 can get in to strain for a glimpse of horseflesh, is a profoundly democratic venue.
It's also an annual barometer of our society. This year both a female jockey (Rosie Napravnik aboard Mylute) and a black jockey (Kevin Krigger on Goldencents) have mounts with an honest shot at taking home the roses. The last black jockey to win the Derby was Jimmy Winkfield, in 1901, and no female jockey has ever won the race.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
And it's a reminder every spring of the most profound of lessons: there's no sure thing. Saturday millions of people at Churchill Downs and around the world will place bets on horses in the Derby. Some will apply years of study to finding the winner, others will rely on hunches, numbers, names or colors to inform their wagers.
But when the gate opens and those horses spring toward the first turn, not one of those millions will know for sure which horse and rider will cross the finish line first. That's why it's the most exciting two minutes in sports, perhaps in anything.