“I took the expressway out to the track,” wrote Hunter Thompson on his way to the Kentucky Derby, “driving with a beer in one hand and my mind so muddled I almost crushed a Volkswagen full of nuns.” The Gobbler thought of the great Bard of Gonzo when he made his own pilgrimage to the Derby last weekend, traveling with Mrs. Gobbler and her box full of hats. Thompson wrote his famous account almost 40 years ago, but in the interim not much appears to have changed. The track, on the outskirts of Louisville, still resembles a “huge outdoor loony bin,” and members of the local gentry are still “guzzling their mint juleps with two hands.” Here is the Gobbler’s dimly recalled, blow-by-blow account.
11:05 a.m. The Gobbler encounters his first julep at a “Derby Brunch,” in an elegant, gentrified part of town. It’s served in a frosty silver julep cup and tastes sugary and boozy and lightly pleasant, like a bourbon-infused snow cone.
11:15 a.m. Brunch is cheese grits, turkey hash, and a southern delicacy called “sugar bacon,” which is sticky, candied strips of hickory smoked bacon baked in piles of brown sugar. The Gobbler takes a bite and thinks to himself, I am in heaven.
12:05 p.m. The Gobbler commences guzzling a second julep. “Stahht drinkin’ too uuhhlly on Duhhby Day,” a kindly Louisville gentleman tells him, “and you will be passed out baahh three o’clock.” The Gobbler puts his second julep aside.
1:45 p.m. The Gobblers and their gracious hosts arrive at the track, pausing to wonder at the acres of neon-colored hats. The Gobbler places a $10 exacta bet on the two favorites in the fourth race. To Mrs. Gobbler’s amazement, The Gobbler wins. The Gobbler guzzles his second julep.
2:35 p.m. (Times heretofore approximate.) The Gobbler ascends to “Millionaires Row,” an enclosed paddock for the wealthy, replete with air-conditioning, betting windows, and a nineteen-course buffet. The Queen is next door, and the millionaires are placing bets on the color of her hat.
2:46 p.m. The Gobbler spots the wizened ex-stock-car racer Richard Petty, who’s black, turkey-plumed Stetson is the biggest hat in all of Derbyland. The Gobbler places another random exacta bet. The Gobbler wins. The Gobbler guzzles julep No. 3.
3:22 p.m. Blearily, the Gobbler approaches the buffet table. The millionaires have ransacked it, scarfing down all the lobster wedges. The Gobbler dines on pole beans simmered with a giant ham hock, graying prime rib, and giant butter cookies caked with frosting the color of antifreeze.
4:22 p.m. The Big Race approaches. The Gobbler descends to the paddock, which is partially obscured in cigar fumes. “I like Street Sense in the Derby,” bellows a gorilla-size gentleman in another giant Stetson. “Amen, brother,” his gorilla-size friend replies.
5:10 p.m. Inexplicably, The Gobbler does not bet on Street Sense. Fortified with julep No. 4, he places $50 on a nag called Tiago. “Tiago?” asks Mrs. Gobbler. “Don’t worry, my dear,” drawls the Gobbler, “I got the tip secondhand, from a horse-playing sommelier at Gordon Ramsay.”
About 6:00 p.m. Post time. Out on the balcony, the millionaires gather in their finery, like buzzards on a rail. Far below, the horses circle the track, small as puppy dogs. Tiago comes in close to last, but so what? As the crowd screams and the great blimps hover overhead, the Gobbler briefly attains a transcendent state of Gonzo enlightenment. Let’s call it a state of julep satori. — Adam Platt
Related: In Season: Mint Julep [NYM]