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Kentucky Derby: The Greatest Two Minutes in American Sports, Drink, and Pie

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Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

The Kentucky Derby, the “greatest two minutes in sports” is Saturday, May 3. I hope you read that in ALL CAPS because that’s how excited I am about watching it. Wearing a big outrageous hat as is the custom, drinking a house-made mint julep from, yes, my silver mint julep cup (given to me by a Southern aunt) and cutting into a giant slice of Derby Pie, while screaming on the edge of my couch like Eliza Doolittle at the Ascot in My Fair Lady and scaring my children, 6 and 9, who last year told me to, “Calm down, Mom, it’s just horse racing.”

“It’s just horse racing?” I replied, spluttering, apoplectic, how could these possibly be my children? “Progeny,” said I, “it is the sport of kings.” And they said, “Whatever. Can we have more of this pie? But don’t tell us anything more about pecans, okay?”

“Or the history of the mint julep.”

In preparation for making Derby Pie which, like pecan pie, consists of a pecans, corn syrup, sugar, and eggs, but adds the crucial additional revelatory elements of Kentucky bourbon and chocolate chips, I have been reading The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut by James McWilliams. I have also been haunting yard sales for old cocktail primers and growing mint from seed.

Is this weird? No. Southern Gothic, maybe.

But every year I have waited or rather ached for the possibility of a Triple Crown winner. That is the horse that wins Kentucky Derby, the Preakness (right here in my town, Baltimore) and the Belmont. It hasn’t been done since Affirmed in 1978. But I can rattle off the names of past winners, and probably you know some of these giants, too.  War Admiral? (1937) Whirlaway? (1941) Secretariat? (1973) C’mon.

I’ve been horsey my whole life, though I am allergic and would look like an overripe pear in jodhpurs and have never said giddyap to anything but books about horses, I can eat pie in a big hat with a drink in one hand with the best of them and appreciate the fast and beautiful.