I don't know how the run-up to the Kentucky Derby could go any better: The expert pickers on national TV are digging deep into their bags of secrets to come up with 3-to-5 shots galore. And the Queen of England, 80, will attend the Derby, and set the pace for hats.
Kentucky Derby preps are supposed to help the handicapper eliminate horses. This spring -- if you can call springing through the cold a blooming success -- each preparatory race seems to add a contender. I'm sitting here looking at an appealing nine-horse Exacta box. When's the last time a Derby Exacta paid a paltry $144?
Many people besides the Queen will be attending the Kentucky Derby for the first time. I have been to three Kentucky Derbies, once staying in what was advertised as a Junior Suite that was barely big enough for somebody named Junior. One year, I spent Derby day in the infield, once in a box on the finish line, the other time on the ground floor with the general admission-type railbirds.
Many horse race track infields have become decorations, more botanical than human, places where you're more apt to see a maintenance truck than a picnic table surrounded by a family gambling together. Active infields are like drive-in movies, they're rare.
The Kentucky Derby seems more southern than any other race held at Churchill Downs, particularly in the infield, where the combination of the weather elements, beer, and close proximity, seems to create a language of its own, seriously.
I have a terrible heartland drawl and sound something like a bass fishing guide on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas. My Derby day in the infield, nobody could figure out what the other was talking about for some while.
Here is a glossary of racing terms that you might think you're hearing after eight hours in an infield full of Southern Comfort; definitions follow.
Quota: One fourth.
How fast did he run that last quota?
Mayor: Important when it comes to breeding.
Great mayors usually cost a lot. One good brood mayor is all it takes.
Far: It's what a winner does.
A horse sets up the race on the turn for home. Then the horse will either far or it won't. Also, what a match starts.
Baroque: How you go home after a bad day at the windows.
Out of bread.
Lion: Where the horses quit running.
Foam: Everybody needs one.
Some people attempt to handicap off the program. Some people pay particular attention to the body language of horses.
But for my money, you can't win without the Daily Racing Foam.
Crayon: As in, Triple.
Early on during my day in the infield, a young woman asked me if this was my first time to attend a Triple Crayon race.
Some while later, I found her and said no, I had been to the Belmont Stakes.
Rayon: A handicapper's nightmare.
Creates a messy racing surface.
Partly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rayon.
Tough: For my money, one of the most difficult races to handicap.
A tough race is on the grass.
Sometimes the tough is unyielding.
Bale: One of the chief attractions of the first Saturday in May.
Look there, in the hat with the flowers and the yellow sundress -- another beautiful southern bale.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org