By J. D. Oxblood
What does the Kentucky Derby have to do with New York City, you ask? The answer is twofold: the Kentucky Derby is the first of three races in the , which culminates in the , held right here on Long Island, AND, as it turns out, there are a lot of Kentucky transplants to New York. And if this blog is dedicated to culture, we should focus our lens wherever culture is found, no matter how hillbilly, depraved or—in this case—well-lubricated.
Handicapping the Derby is always a crap shoot, and this year was no exception. In a race with 20 horses, anything can happen, especially when so many of them are essentially untested. Favorite Dunkirk was going after the Roses with only 4 starts under his saddle. Favorite was optimism incarnate for trainer “Cowboy” Jones, following a devastating tragedy last year when show horse had to be euthanized seconds after the race with two shattered legs. I Want Revenge, the heavy favorite, scratched the day before the big race. Pioneerof the Nile [sic] never caught my eye because of the wonky spelling—exactly the kind of nonsense that proves I’ll never be an adept handicapper.
But looking through the form, at past performances and lineages, two names kept jumping out at me, the way that an evil woman jumps out at you at a seedy bar—something not right about this, something cold, something wrong. Mine That Bird and Summer Bird… Bird… what is it about that name “Bird” that’s tripping me up… oh, yeah: the 2004 Belmont. Everyone and their dog put their money on —again, optimism, since amateurs seem to forget that the Belmont is a significantly longer race than either the Derby or the Preaknesss—a leading reason why there are so damn few —and out of nowhere, a horse that never got a second look let alone asked to the prom, came out of nowhere to upset the whole balance and make ALL of us lose money: Birdstone. Yes, indeed, that was about 5 years ago, and the stud fees that made Birdstone’s retirement pleasant have come to fruition in two of his kids, Mine That Bird and Summer Bird. I was taking bets for a friend who was out of town and expressed my concern. “Let’s do it,” he said, and we agreed to split win, place and show bets on Summer Bird, the better looking of the two. I put together a crazy exotic bets and a couple of exactas and went to Chinatown. (the Williamsburg OTB has been shut down.)
Man, the Chinese love to gamble. I was happy to see that the joint is huge, so even with the old Chinese men barking at each other and watching multiple races on multiple screens, I didn’t have to wait long to lay my money down. Then it was off to Boerum Hill.
Floyd has become such a success that the owners have since opened up Union Hall and the Bell House (previously discussed in these pages), and has, for many years, been a go-to joint for Derby Day. This Kentucky-esque saloon deserves sawdust on the floor, and they boast an excellent bourbon selection—not just the high-brow bullshit like Bakers and Knob, but fantastic bottom-end stalwarts Old Crow and Old Granddad—as well as Ale 8, a Kentucky favorite that goes well with Makers Mark—and even better with Old Crow. The place was packed, and the indoor bocce ball court was getting good use. At least half the ladies were trying to wear big hats and flouncy sundresses, and some of them were even pulling them off. The widespread preponderance of pork pies wasn’t so remarkable—this is hipster culture, after all—but suffice it to say that’s SCHOOL ON SUNDAY—NO CLASS. A gentleman takes his hat off when indoors, you pompous, poser motherfuckers. Wear your hat at the TRACK. A buddy of ours (a Kentuckian and self-proclaimed hillbilly) explained the phenomenon thusly: “Oh. They’re just wearing COSTUMES.”
But fuck it, I came here to get drunk and watch the ponies. Six Crow & 8’s later, they’re off! I was rooting for Chocolate Candy and Friesan Fire, as I had them both in 2 trifectas and an exacta….
I have to digress here. I’ve said repeatedly that I fucking hate sports—dudes in tight or few clothes rubbing up against each other as orangutans cheer and bleat—but what I really hate about sports is the nationalism. How many times have you seen a couple dudes almost come to blows because “my team is better than your team” for no other reason that because “my” team comes from “my” town and must, therefore, by definition, be better than “yours?” And all this with no money on the game? Winning at barroom pool—or bocce—may get you bragging rights, but the ONLY reason to give a shit about the outcome of any kind of “game” in which you cannot possibly affect the equilibrium of the outcome is to have MONEY on the motherfucker. I love horse racing because I can bet on it, it usually involves drinking, and it’s over in under 2 minutes.
—so there I am cheering away, crowded up by the huge, crappy screen at Floyd, with such a bad picture that you can’t even read the numbers on the horses as they go around the track. Naturally and as usual, the biggest guy in the room is standing as close as possible with the entire borough of Brooklyn behind him, blocking everyone’s view. I lean in and yell anyway. It’s a total mosh pit on acid. They’re slogging it out. Nothing happens until the second turn, and then, like a steed out of Hades, one horse weaves its way through the crowd like a smart commuter in Grand Central and blows everyone away by what looks like a mile—no, I take that back, he blows them away in what looks like TIME more than SPACE. He left those carousel horses back in YESTERDAY.
And the horse? The one that fucked everyone’s bets all the way to the VD clinic? Mine That Bird. The curse of the Birdstone lives.
And then I remembered, waiting in line in Chinatown, thinking, I got Summer Bird covered, but wouldn’t it be just my karma to pick the wrong Bird? I definitely picked the wrong bird that time. I asked that blonde to go home with me, and got a martini in the face — why should this be any different? So I hedged, and put $2 on Mine That Bird to show. A win bet would’ve payed like two-hunny, but I played it safe, and even so, I caught $24 back and almost covered my bets for the day.
Can’t bitch. “Almost broke even” is one of the better reports I heard from the day, and it came from me. Watch that bastard in the, and hold on to your time-space continuum come Belmont.