The RI Historical Society’s upcoming event taking us back to the glory days of Narragansett Race Track reminded me of our one and only trip to The Kentucky Derby. Watching the race on television gave us only a modest idea of what to expect.

As we approached the gates we were infused with the passion and enthusiasm of the Churchill Downs crowd; a crowd almost walking on their toes with perseverating gait in anticipation of the day. Names like Whirlaway, Seabiscuit and Man-O-War swirled in my head.

Narragansett Race Track Photo

Walking along was a parade of women wearing the most fashionable hats from brassy to stylish with a mix of elegance. Flowers, feathers, bows and ribbons of all colors conveyed their imagination and character. Men were wearing tropical colors in bold stripes, busy plaids and bright pastels. Navy and seersucker blazers were in style.

We sat to rest, listen and observe. I was never a betting man, but Churchill Downs, like my first time at Narragansett, whetted my appetite.  I was not alone. I stood in line to bet the number four horse. It was Dad’s lucky number. I won! $300!  Remembering my losses, though modest, of years before at Narragansett, I returned to the stands, gave Diane the cash and sat to watch other races and the people before The Derby.

The other bet I made was in The Derby for Dad. Of course he wanted the number four horse. I placed the bet for him. Four came out of the gate last and stayed so for the entire race. When I got home, Dad asked, “How come I never saw my horse on television?”

“Because he was dead last all the way, Dad.”

“The bum.” That was Dad’s common refrain when sports did not go his way.

Because our hostess had means, we were invited to a number of elegant events. We rubbed elbows with celebrities at a tent dance with two hundred tables of ten, featuring at the same time, the bands of Lester Lanin, Salsa and Rip Rock in three different areas.  The tent dance and dinner paled in comparison to the next day’s brunch on a horse farm. Before the parade of horses, we toured the stables, immaculately kept.

While we stood in the picturesque portico holding mint juleps, the owners paraded a number of horses; all of whom had some connection with the Derby … racers, studs, stallions and brood mares. We were astonished. Each led by a personal handler, the splendid animals, almost as stylish as the ladies in their hats, pranced on the lawn.  Feisty, they reared and romped to show they had spunk enough to be champions. Shining like black flowers, they were elegant and exotic with movements quick and light.

As the first Saturday of May approaches, I think fondly of our day in Kentucky. This year, with enthusiasm, I am looking forward to the swing dancers, collection items, photographs and, oh yes, the mint juleps of the Historical Society event.

** Published in yesterday’s GoLocalProv