Ten years and 38 days after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse and ended the Civil War, the first Kentucky Derby was run in Louisville. It's been run there every year since then and since World War Two, it has always been on the first Saturday in May. But that's not the case this year. The sun is still expected to shine bright on my old Kentucky home this Saturday, May 2nd, and that's actually a rare occurrence of late. But there will be no Kentucky Derby. Like every other touchstone of the spring sporting calendar in America, it has been forced to bow in deference to a global pandemic.
The 146th Kentucky Derby is now scheduled to be run September 5th, an event that thrives on continuity must temporarily reinvent itself. This will be a strange, quiet weekend in the Ville, a place that I've lived since 1987, and I've attended every Kentucky Derby since then. A mid southern city that revs itself up every spring on thousands of visitors, $11 Churchill Downs beers, mint juleps and souvenir glasses, unwise wagering strategies and all manner of pastel finery finds itself in a sad limbo. The grand old track on Central Avenue will be silent and empty, not welcoming 150,000 partiers. The starting gate will not burst open early in the evening, cutting the palpable pre-race tension and sending 20 young horses out in a race for equine immortality.
The most exciting two minutes in sports will instead be just another two minutes of time ticking by, in a world trying to survive a devastating plague. There is, for the first time in 75 years, something more important to do in Louisville than to gather en masse and sing "My Old Kentucky Home" on the first Saturday in May. The more important thing to do is to stay home and wait for better days ahead.