LOUISVILLE, Ky. — What could be more American than drinking beer and not showering after a workout? Hey, half my college roommates fit that description. So it’s very comforting to find a guy with similar habits right here at the Kentucky Derby. Only the guy isn’t American. Nor, when you get right down to it, is he a guy. He is a horse.
A British horse.
His name is Bold Arrangement, imported from England — he flew over on a Boeing 707, which is a story in itself — and he is, you’ll pardon the expression, a dark horse in today’s 112th Run for the Roses. Even though we ride on the wrong side of the street, so to speak. The Brits race their horses clockwise. We race counter-clockwise.
A culture clash. What else is new? In recent years, foreigners have stuck their flags into many traditionally American competitions, including the U.S. Open tennis tournament (won by Czechs), the Masters (Germans and Spaniards), the America’s Cup (Australians) and the American League East (Canadians). So why not horses?
Especially horses who drink beer and skip showers. You gotta like that. Every morning here at Churchill Downs, Bold Arrangement goes for his track run and works up a nice sweat. Then, instead of being hosed off like the American horses, he lies in the grass, rolls on one side, then turns over and does the other. Sort of an organic towel-off.His mane isn’t blow- dried, either.
“Helps keep the natural oils in the body,” explains Raymond Richards, a gray-haired British industrial investor who co-owns the horse with his brother, Anthony. “Besides, it’s a bit chilly out here, isn’t it? Why take a chance on a cold?”
Yeah. My college buddies used to say the same thing. And like them, after a good workout, Bold Arrangement likes to chow down on some feed, mixed with a couple of cans of beer. Guinness Stout, naturally. Imported.
What did you expect? Budweiser? Did he fly first-class?
“He likes the taste of the beer,” says Anthony Richards. “It’s quite something.”
Yes. Quite. Roger. Cheerio. Supah-dupah. OK. Sorry. The sound of British accents here in bluegrass country is actually sort of refreshing. Only two British horses have won this race, one in 1917, the other in 1959. But it has been a dozen years since hoofs from the Motherland even kicked up Kentucky Derby dirt, which is part of the problem. Most British horses race on grass. Switching to dirt is like a racquetball player switching to tennis.
“It takes a certain kind of horse,” says Clive Brittain (yes, that’s his real name), Bold Arrangement’s trainer. “American races are speedier. We noticed this horse had a lot of pace left in the races he was winning in England. That’s what made me think he’d be a good shot for America.”
So began Bold Arrangement’s bold journey. He took a commercial flight last month from London to the United States. He then spent 48 hours quarantined in New York City (which is actually the safest way to visit there). Then came an 18-hour van ride to Kentucky.
And today, the big one. The Derby.
“It’s one of the greatest horse races in the world. That’s why we’re here,” says Raymond Richards. “After this year, I think, this race won’t be just for American-trained horses anymore. Others will try what we’re doing.”
Now, a lot of Americans may say this is bad. But I say, what the heck! To be fair, there would be no Kentucky Derby without the British. The thing actually took its name in honor of an 18th Century English horse race.
I didn’t know that until five minutes ago. Nor did I know the Brits invented the thoroughbred. But they did. Several centuries ago, they introduced a “cold-blooded” English horse to a “hot-blooded” Arabian horse, the two fell in love, gave birth to a thoroughbred strain; the rest is history.
So, anyhow, I figure the Brits sort of have a right to be here. And to do well, if that’s in the cards.
Personally, I’m rooting for Bold Arrangement to win today, not because of his pedigree, but because Bold Arrangement strikes me as a horse you can relate to.
In fact, I’m hoping if he wins, maybe we can hook up for a morning run on Sunday. And when we’re finished, we can skip the shower, just roll around in the grass for a while, then head for the stables to knock back a few cool ones.
“Smashing race,” I’ll say as we walk off. “So tell me, what college did you go to?”