Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
You can almost hear the trumpets blaring.
Grantland Rice wrote about the Derby 82 years ago: “Those two minutes and a second or so of derby running carry more emotional thrills, per second, than anything sport can show.”
The Kentucky Derby typically draws a crowd of 155,000 people. It is the longest continually held sporting event in America, and it is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world.
The Derby is a top rank, Grade I stakes race for 3 year old Thoroughbred horses. Colts and geldings in the race carry 126 pounds, and fillies in the race carry 121 pounds.
20 horses compete, but they must enter into a series of 35 races taking place at tracks across the country and the world. Points are awarded to the top 4 horses that finish in each of those 35 races, and the 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby race. The Kentucky Derby winning purse is $2 million.
And we’re dedicating this week’s music blog to the most famous of horse races.
Bandleader/violinist Xavier Cugat helped popularize Latin-American music in the United States. Born in Gerona, Spain, his family moved to Havana when Cugat was a young boy. He soon made his way to Los Angeles in the mid-1920’s and became infatuated with the Latino crowd of the film industry. It was reported that Rudolph Valentino was a favorite of Cugat’s. Valentino insisted that Cugat be on all of his film sets to play romantic music to set the mood for his passionate love scenes. Cugat then formed a combo to play Latin-American music at the fashionable Coconut Grove nightclub.
In 1966 the 65-year old Cugat got married to a real pistol.
About 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs Racetrack. That requires more than 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.
Pretty rollicking stuff. Sounds perfect for a romping race. And there’s more.
Russell Baze, now a retired jockey, told the New York Times:
“You never lose the thrill of having that gate come open and the feeling of that horse surging up beneath you. It feels like you’re on top of one big muscle. It’s exhilarating. You’re in command of all that power.
“It’s like a chess game where you need to see the moves ahead. You can influence what the others do. If a guy is going too slow, you let your horse creep up on them and give them a little goose, get them started a little sooner than they’d want.
“But you know how fast you’ve gone and, if you have any sense of pace, you know how much horse you’ve used up. You can feel it in your hands. Sometimes you can hear it in their respiration. Hopefully, they’re not lying to you. Some make you feel like you’ve got a ton of horse left and then you turn for home and pfft, nothing, the dirty lying son of a gun.
“It’s really fun to come from behind. When you’re in the lead, you’ve got the target on your back. But when you come from behind, you’re the one doing the target practice. It’s fun to wheel out and pass everyone. It’s even more fun to get through on the rail, because you are exploiting a flaw in somebody else’s plan and you feel extra smart.”
This one, appropriately titled, goes back to 1939.
Pat Forde wrote on ESPN.com in 2006:
“It’s a very competitive, dangerous sport — and you can’t eat,” said mega-trainer Bob Baffert, a former rider in his youth. “You don’t see many 40-year-old bull fighters; this is the same thing. You can’t live a normal life.”
Normal is a long way from the day-to-day existence of a jockey. Here’s the basic job description:
Hold a thin strip of leather in your hands and balance your feet on a pair of inch-wide steel bars. Use your knees to hug the sides of an animal 10 times your weight, while hurtling along in tight quarters at 35 mph. If you fall off or your horse goes down, something will break. Hopefully not your neck, spine or skull.
Now for some creative license, because the next piece doesn’t really have anything to do with horses or racing. But we’ll tie it together.
Horses run for the roses. A garland of more than 400 red roses is sewn into a green satin backing with the seal of the Commonwealth on one end and the Twin Spires and number of the race’s current year on the other. Each garland is also adorned with a “crown” of roses, green fern and ribbon. The “crown,” a single rose pointing upward in the center of the garland, symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to win the race.
This big band got its start in Dallas in 2013 and now works out of Nashville.
Back in 1883, ladies who attended the Derby parties around Louisville all received a red rose. The Churchill Downs President at the time, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, saw what a success the roses were and decided to make the association between the flower and the Kentucky Derby in 1884.
In 1904, the red rose was given the status of official flower of the Kentucky Derby.
The rose garland was now a permanent piece of Derby history, and it became even more so in 1925. Ahead of Flying Ebony’s win, beating Captain Hal by a length-and-a-half, New York sports columnist Bill Corum coined the term “run for the roses.” The phrase stuck and Bill went on to be a future Churchill Downs President.
For the last 34 years, the Derby garland has been made by Kroger’s master floral designers in Middleton, Kentucky. It is made on the eve on the Derby in a local store, and the public can watch the 400 red roses be sewn together to create the garland. There is a crown of roses added to the garland. Ever since Grindstone won the 1996 Derby, the garland is sent to Danville in Kentucky to be freeze-dried, and the horse’s owner gets the garland after it is dried.
Next up, a cover version of an old hit the group “America” did in 1972.
The lyrics may sound strange. “Horse” is slang for heroin, so folks back then thought the song had to be about drugs. But lead singer Dewey Bunnel denied those rumors.
Bunnel maintained that the “horse” stood for a way of entering a place of peace signified by a desert. Bunnel and the other band members were sons of U.S. servicemen stationed in England. For Bunnel thoughts of a “desert” were more appealing than rainy, soggy London.
So why didn’t the horse have a name? Why did the horse go free after nine days? Bunnel claims he based the words he wrote on sights seen in the U.S. But Bunnel has no answers to these questions.
Here’s father and daughter Maxine (vocal) and Paul Hardcastle (keyboard).
The Fischer Family at Churchill Downs in November of 2018.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
By request, the UW Marching Band prior to the 2012 Rose Bowl.