Monday, May 04, 2009

Run for the Roses

So Susan has thrown down the gauntlet. Write about the Kentucky Derby and bring it around to art, she said. If you watched the Derby Saturday, you know that Calvin Borel’s victory on Mine That Bird was the second biggest upset in the Derby’s history. You should read the whole story here, but in a nutshell, what happened was that Borel and his horse, a gelding from nowheresville and a 50-1 long shot, stumbled out of the gate, came from way behind, squeaked through a narrow opening on the rail, and won the race by six and a quarter lengths. About that narrow opening - “I wasn’t worried,” Borel said. “He’s a small horse and I knew I could squeeze him through.”

As a kid growing up in Kentucky, I knew the names of Derby winners long before I ever heard of Pollock, Picasso or Van Gogh. Aristides, Gallant Fox, Whirlaway, Citation – all the romance of horse racing is tied up with the magic that happens when a horse and rider surge through the pack and across the finish line into history. In spite of the millions of dollars spent and earned in races these days, it’s still not about the money thing.

The wraparound is not some sentimental drivel about art being an equally wonderful and romantic pursuit to which money is only a corollary. Nope – it’s cut and dried a question of time. The fact of the matter is that a three-year-old gets a single less-than-two-minute crack at winning the Derby, and the win can neither be faked nor bought. By contrast, an artist can fake or buy his way right to the top of the heap, and only the passing of years can out the truth.

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