April 27, 2010
Joe Torre left the ballpark in Cincinnati last week and headed south. Not as far south as his L. A. Dodger ballclub has been heading in the standings since opening day, mind you, but any port in a storm.
He figures his luck’s gotta change! When your current lot in life has you wrangling’ a herd of dysfunctional boys of summer, you’ll try just about anything. Joe has a bit of action going on the side, you see. Only a couple of hours down I-71 from Great American Ball Park reposes Churchill Downs, site of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
That’s right. Joe is part owner of a race horse. A "nag." A "plug." No, they’re in his bullpen. Torre’s proud steed is "Homeboykris," and, barring injury, an expected starter in this year’s Run for the Roses. This isn’t Joe’s first racehorse, just his first 3-year-old to earn enough on the track to qualify as a Derby starter. And that’s a pretty big deal.
"It was a lot of fun," Torre quipped to the L.A. Times. "He breezed for six furlongs. I don’t think anyone can pass him in earnings, so it looks good. I think he has a chance, but you never want to get too excited. With a horse, anything can happen." The same might be said of your pitching staff, eh Joe?
Too bad Torre won’t be able to follow in Hunter S. Thompson’s rather impressive and wobbly footsteps and run completely amok as the Louisville native and "gonzo journalist" so famously accomplished at the Derby back in 1970. The Dodgers will be busy with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Chavez Ravine later that evening.
Thompson came out of his escapade with a rather disjointed and hilarious piece for Scanlan’s Monthly titled "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved." In fact it is that article that is looked upon as the birthplace of gonzo. With illustrator Ralph Steadman along as alcohol and performance-enhancing-drug consultant, the resultant submission has, justifiably, found its way into the new journalism pantheon.
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Now, normally, a somewhat representative quorum of local pony players will gather each year in Hebertown the first Saturday of May to partake of the Derby by way of muddled mints and Kentucky’s famed small-barrel sipping products.
In that most all of the usual suspects will find themselves searching for an ibuprofen fix down in the big city this Saturday, however, the normal mint julep rituals will be forced to undergo a change of venue.
This will be due to the fact that the Barfly Wranglers, an offshoot band of the longtime Park City and Heber country-rock outfit Block & Tackle, will be opening for the much-heralded Reckless Kelly both Friday and Saturday nights down at the Stateroom and a posse of considerable quantitative girth will be making the trip and performing some high-rise camping out in support.
Which brings us back to the Derby and the news that this year’s overwhelming favorite, Eskendereya, suffered an as-yet-undetermined injury to his front leg and has been scratched. So this will probably mean Torre’s horse, Homeboykris, will run 19th rather than 20th. No, no — that would be his left fielder, HomeboyManny.
Actually, in this corporately-sponsored landscape, I should really refrain from referring to this grand cultural spectacle as simply "the Derby." In actuality, it’s the "Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I)." Come to think of it, Torre’s outfit is officially known, in some circles, as "The Los Angeles Dodgers Presented by Yuck! Brands (Grade II).
You gotta love it when, after a rousing off-key version of "My Old Kentucky Home" and enough mint juleps to totally convince you that there’s nothing really all that difficult in correctly selecting winners in a horse race, a cavalry-regiment worth of thoroughbreds with nostrils flaring and hooves pounding take full measure of the finish line.
There’s a lot at stake! A miniscule butterfly effect like stumbling out of the gate or over-muddling the mints could lead to serious unpleasantness around the far turn. Legendary rail-bird and poet Charles Bukowski would prevent such occurrences by never allowing himself to be put in a gate in the first place and by skipping the mints entirely.
What a wild and crazy weekend on the horizon. Two nights with the Barfly Wranglers and Reckless Kelly with the Kentucky Derby sandwiched in between. Homeboykris is currently listed as a 50-to-1 shot. But those are a lot better odds than Joe would be able to get on the Dodgers making the playoffs this year.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.