In May of 2015, my husband and I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to attend the 141th annual Kentucky Derby. Though we had been to Churchill Downs many times before and many times since, it was the first and so far only time we have ever seen the “run for the roses” in person and by far the largest sporting event either of us has ever attended.
In the years prior to attending the Derby, my husband had been teaching me about the sport of horse racing and handicapping. I always loved to watch the Triple Crown races with my family as a child, but had never really learned to pick horses beyond choosing one with a name I liked. When he introduced me to the intricacies of handicapping and I realized it was not unlike solving a puzzle, I began to appreciate the art of handicapping and have tried to learn as much from him as I can.
On that Derby day, we found ourselves in a sea of well-dressed people, I in my fascinator, he unnaturally in a tie for over twelve hours on a sunny day with money and bourbon flowing freely all around. We made friends with people who had traveled from as far as Australia to be there, bonding with them in our mutual derby pick.
We studied both the day before and in between each of the races, trying to solve the mystery of which horse’s abilities and breeding would blend perfectly with the elements of the track, weather, and competition to come out ahead.
There were thirteen races that day, but the eleventh was the one everyone had been waiting on. The crowd which would divide up into its various groups between each race of the horse players, gamblers, socializers, and families all came together filling the grandstands to watch the “most exciting two minutes in sports”. The crowd swelled as the horses entered the stretch and the puzzle of the racing program was at last revealed.
And indeed the Derby lived up to its nickname. American Pharoah won the Derby, and went on to take the Triple Crown. It was so exciting for my husband and me to have been present at the Kentucky Derby that kicked off the Triple Crown run for the first Triple Crown winner of our lifetimes.
It’s strange but after each race if I hadn’t successfully picked the winner, I would re-review my program and suddenly the outcome would seem so obvious. It reminds me of this quote:
“An old race track joke reminds you that your program contains all the winner’s names. I stare at my typewriter keys with the same thought.”- Mignon Mclaughlin
Writing can also feel like a mystery to be solved, seeking to get each word aligned just so to say what you mean in the tone in which you wish to convey it.
It’s intricate, not unlike handicapping. And even after all the work you put into it, anything can happen to take you by complete surprise.
The thing I’ve learned with the most certainty from handicapping is you can be certain of nothing. You just have to weigh all of your options and then cheer for your final pick with all you’ve got.
What I am coming to learn as a writer is if I wish to write, I must study and work to find the right words and voice for a story. But eventually I must settle upon a final choice and send my story out of the gate, cheering it on. Maybe it will win, maybe it won’t. But I’ll never know unless I take that gamble.