Meehan: Kentucky cologne
May 3, 2016
There’s this giant organic craft cocktail being fashioned in the corrals, pens, paddocks, and pastures out back past the woodpile and fire pit. It’s a jungle out there. Recent rains and melting snows have joined with the mix of clay, sand, humus, and equine "road apples" that overlay the bedrock in these parts.
It’s a metamorphosis not unlike, say, the "muddling" that occurs between mint leaves and simple syrup at the bottom of a "julep" glass, only, in this case, rather than a muddler-stick, it would be the random romping of horses’ hooves that serves to combine the ingredients.
Admittedly, it would not be a pretty sight to slip, fall, and roll around in the muck in question. However, each spring, the sum total aromas emitted by the concoction bring this almost perfume-like bouquet to the olfactory. And that’s as it lies-in-state prior to the garnish being brought to bear.
It never gets too deep to navigate. Hip-waders are certainly unnecessary. There may well have been a point when donning "mud gear" and heading out to cavort in the ooze didn’t seem as inviting as it has become over recent times but, if that were the case, the "why" of it escapes me. What’s not to love?
These days I can’t wait to get out there and "run" laps with the local nags. Actually, "run" is a misnomer. Seldom do I get within a furlong of a "trot," let alone a "gallop." I tell them that with the "Run for the Roses" on the near horizon and, with a sloppy track possible if not probable, such training is invaluable.
As if that were news to them. As if they haven’t been hearing the bugles of Churchill Downs in their dreams for a spell now. As if there weren’t something imbedded in a Morgan’s or Tennessee Walker’s DNA that wouldn’t like to rear up on its hind legs and show that Thoroughbred bunch a thing or two.
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The oftentimes off-seasonal and unwelcome arrival of snow and the inherent whining that goes along with it comes with the territory up here in the foothills. In order to embellish the standard small talk, I’ve even been known to shake my head in agreement and exasperation whenever the subject is broached.
But when the ranch-mates-in-question aren’t looking, and if the weather has been too "spring-like" during the week preceding the Kentucky Derby, I’ve also been known to set out sprinklers in order to advance the chemical process. There is a timetable and rituals that need to be upheld!
I usually tend a small patch of special "muck," adding or withholding moisture before, at the last minute, adding a "freshie" for flavor, not unlike, say, dark rum, floating on top. From this batch will emerge the final catalyst necessary to my becoming one with the Kentucky Derby and all things equine.
My recent race-day itinerary has been to pre-assemble the muddled mint in a Julep glass prior to leading it into its assigned stall in the icebox where it can both cool and "incorporate" well before the opening refrains of "My Old Kentucky Home" waft about the abode.
When building one’s initial Mint Julep of the day, patience is required. Passions must be tamed! As long as one doesn’t skimp on the bourbon, however, the second and third require no such strict adherence to proportions. The attendant "glow" will suffice.
There’s this honored spot out on the back steps where, for years now, I have hand-crushed Julep ice employing a plastic mallet originally designed for driving tent stakes and a kitchen towel reserved for just such annual purpose.
Following a quick shower to disguise the less-than-subtle aspects of my horse bonding, I’m ready to take in the pre-recorded under-card, which, on Derby Day, is awesome in itself. Admittedly, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is the race that turns my crank the furthest.
Then, with the Derby champing at the bit to take center stage, preparations for my sacramental moment begin to unfold. First, of course, the Mint Julep is freshened. Next, after removing any random obstacles between the backstretch and the turn for home, I deftly apply a dab of my small-barrel batch "muck" behind each ear.
The osmosis is instantaneous. My head fills with the vaquero-tones of Ben Quinter reciting "Equus Caballus." I have become "Horse." In a flash, the gate opens and "they’re off!" I quickly grab the rail and settle back. You can’t rush things. Two minutes can be an eternity.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.