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Still Depraved and Decadent, Some Things Never Change

May 7, 2012

Kentucky Derby 138 was run this past Saturday. It’s quite a big deal in these parts of the Ohio Valley. The smell of money, mint, and horseshit has been accumulating for weeks.

I’m in pressing need of one big score so I can retire to an island soon, while I can still enjoy myself. I relied upon years of hard-earned horse sense and handicapping skills to decide on a trio of possible winners. Assets were liquidated. Bets were made.

The fact that it’s Monday morning, and I have arrived punctually at The Cube, and I am drinking tepid, institutionally-prepared coffee should sufficiently indicate the day was less than a financial success. I am keeping my day job for now. In the parlance of the railbird, charitably it is phrased my horses “finished up the track”. And I have a suspicion one of them may still be out there running (or more accurately, jogging lightly, trying not to tax himself too much, in my opinion).

All the study and diligent handicapping work went for naught. I could have saved myself time and effort and just played the Mad Men hunch play horses — Daddy Nose Best, Creative Cause, El Padrino, Liaison, and of course, the natural winner I’ll Have Another. Roger would have walked out with some serious coin.

The winner is obvious when the race is peered at through the bottom of Draper’s old-fashioned glass.

Anyway, Grantland re-published “The Kentucky Derby Is Depraved and Decadent” by Hunter S. Thompson. A genuine gonzo description of the his visit to the 1970 Derby, incidentally occurring the same weekend as the Kent State killings. It’s regarded  as his breakthrough piece.

Season 5 of Mad Men has displayed a menacing aura of the surreal so far and this excerpt from the Good Doctor’s article doesn’t seem too far removed from that depiction of 1966.

He had done a few good sketches but so far we hadn’t seen that special kind of face that I felt we would need for the lead drawing. It was a face I’d seen a thousand times at every Derby I’d ever been to. I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whiskey gentry — a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis; the inevitable result of too much inbreeding in a closed and ignorant culture. One of the key genetic rules in breeding dogs, horses or any other kind of thoroughbred is that close inbreeding tends to magnify the weak points in a bloodline as well as the strong points. In horse breeding, for instance, there is a definite risk in breeding two fast horses who are both a little crazy. The offspring will likely be very fast and also very crazy. So the trick in breeding thoroughbreds is to retain the good traits and filter out the bad. But the breeding of humans is not so wisely supervised, particularly in a narrow Southern society where the closest kind of inbreeding is not only stylish and acceptable, but far more convenient — to the parents — than setting their offspring free to find their own mates, for their own reasons and their own ways. (“Goddam, did you hear about Smitty’s daughter? She went crazy in Boston last week and married a nigger!”)

So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol, in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.

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