The Kentucky Derby and the Writing Life

And they're making the turn...

Oh, the history, romance, life, and stories of a horse race. 

Yesterday, the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby occurred.  The beautiful people were there: women in hats that would make the British Royal women envious; men in tailored suits, coordinating silk ties and dress shirts costing more than many families’ monthly allotment for groceries.  Celebs who had no idea what comprised a great race horse or an amazing race but knew a red carpet had to be there. Then you had the inner circle of racing: the trainers, owners, breeders; their families, friends and hangers-on. 

And oh, that infield… Even with heavy rain all day, the masses who loved the horses, the pomp, the race itself, the grandeur of the day was a sea of umbrellas and rain gear. 

The Kentucky Derby is about the mint juleps, the hats, the first Saturday in May, the tradition of one of horse racing’s greatest traditions.  It’s about the beauty of the spring flowers blooming everywhere, the graceful spires of the track’s grandstand.  It’s about the racing silks, My Olde Kentucky Home being sung, the cascade of roses draping the winning horse’s withers.

The track or course the horses ran on yesterday was not the best, not even good.  Most described it as gooey peanut butter.  When I saw it on TV, I thought just poured cement.  Then I figured it would truly be a horse race where luck, the wisdom of the jockey, and the stamina and heart of the horse would determine the winner.  As for those who were betting?  Luck and big odds would likely play a major part. 

It’s a paean to a lifestyle, a state and those great horses who went into the history books because they won this fabled race, then went on to win what’s called the Triple Crown:  Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.  Some of those great horses race for several more years; many are “retired” early to procreate potential future winners.  Some are more successful at this than others.  Whatever fate falls upon a Derby winner, the horse is pretty much guaranteed to cost fortunes for its owners.  Hopefully, it will bring in more than it costs. 

Horse racing and its stars, wannabees, and has-beens contains many downsides and pitfalls.  For every superstar horse there’s several who never make it.  For every great trainer or wealthy owner or successful breeder, you hear about those who toil in the depths of the worst of the sport.  Who don’t make it big.  Who barely scrape by in life. 

Horse racing has many stories with multiple facets. The sport draws all sorts of people who work in it, live it, enjoy watching it, betting on the outcomes.  For me I’ll always be attracted to books, movies, events relating to the sport.  However, I wouldn’t want to actually live in it. I’m more the kind of person who enjoys observing activities or lifestyles I deem to be way to stressful or dangerous for my personality. 

Heading for the Winner's Circle

Maybe that helps me as a writer though.  I can research, observe, analyze and then create whatever I want for setting, characters, and plots, but not necessarily live it.  Of course, like horse racing, I’m nurturing what I hope will be a winner: a great story which will win the “race.”  Readers will love it, buy it, talk about it, want another.  Perhaps this current work will be my Super Saver, yesterday’s Derby winner.  Maybe not. 

What do you think?  Are our manuscripts like thoroughbreds?  Are we writers a combination or breeder, owner, trainer, and jockey to the books we write?

Explore posts in the same categories: Kentucky Derby, Writing

6 Comments on “The Kentucky Derby and the Writing Life”

  1. Edie Ramer Says:

    It is like writing in a way. Sometimes you think you have your ducks lined up to sell this great book — and then the rain pours on you. And what if your book doesn’t fun on rain? What if it needs dry ground? LOL

    Fun metaphors to go with this blog, MJ. Let’s hope our books are weather resistant.

  2. Deb Maher Says:

    Gooey peanut butter…just poured cement…yeah, I’ve been running on that for a while now. Praying for sunshine and a dry track in the weeks and months to come.

    Lovely blog! It brought back memories of driving from southern Indiana, through Kentucky to the East Coast. Miles and miles of white painted fences surrounding tranquil, rolling pastures. It is a different world.

  3. Elle J Rossi Says:

    I was glued to the television for many hours yesterday. I love horses. Love horse racing. Love the stories. Last year, my girlfriends and I had a Derby party. We sported amazing hats that we decorated ourselves. It was so much fun. i hope to be at the actual even one of these years.

    To answer your question: We as writers have to be all of that and more. We are there from conception to birth to graduation all the way through retirement.

  4. caseyclifford Says:


    Yeah, let’s hope we get our withers adorned with a cascade of roses. We could call our race to the big time the Finally Got There Derby. What do you think? 🙂

  5. caseyclifford Says:

    Hey, Deb,

    You’re description of the past few months is so lyrical. Like watching Secretariat in a slo-mo replay of the Derby. He just blew away the other with his speed and beauty. I wish I could do that with description. Let’s here it for some sunny weather and no gooey peanut butter in our writers’ lives. 🙂

  6. caseyclifford Says:


    I love the story about making your hats. I have one. I almost took a photo of it to post with this. I’d wear it if I were at the Derby. I know several who’ve gone several times. Lucky them. Even better, I have a friend who picked the second and third place winners and her son picked the winner. But they didn’t make the trifecta bet! Want to guess who’s wondering why they didn’t communicate better??? 🙂

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