On a dairy farm, derby races are good cause for a break


Dairy farmers, it can certainly be said, live by the clock. There were very few times on our dairy farm that we ever shifted the milking times. The clock ruled the roost, and it was clearly understood that the cows needed us to stay on a defined schedule.

During the dead of winter, we once drew up some tickets marked “FREE SUPER BOWL” and wrapped them up with a pretty bow. When Dad opened the gift, he lit up like a little boy receiving his first cap gun.

We told him he could stay inside and watch it all, and we would take care of all the chores from start to finish that night.

“I think he checked on us about four times that first year we gave this to him,” my sister recalls. “It was like we’d given him a million bucks; he was so happy and appreciative.”

Horse races

There were few exceptions to moving milking times, but horse racing’s big trifecta of spring events allowed us some wiggle room.

The Kentucky Derby, that first Saturday in May, became a party which heralded spring for us. Before things got really full-throttle crazy around the farm, on this day we could get the milking started and finished a little early and gather in the living room for a whole lot of fun.

After reading newspaper accounts and watching pre-race coverage, we each were to choose a horse. Dad kept the official ledger, and chuckled over some of the silly names these fancy horses carried to the track.

No money ever changed hands.

Buying supper

The rule, ironically, was that the winner got to buy supper for everybody. We were happy to let Dad have first pick, and he nearly always picked the winner.

This past weekend, watching The Preakness and all the pre-race stories, I couldn’t help but think it would sure be hard to follow Dad’s instructions to each choose a different horse to make the competition fun.

For the derby this year, both my son and I had chosen California Chrome, and we were sticking with that impressive colt in his Baltimore showing.

The story of California Chrome, bred by two aging guys ridiculed for even trying to get into horse racing by spending $2,500 for a breeding of their $8,000 mare, Love the Chase, makes a fellow chuckle in wonder of it all.

The trainer, making his first appearance to the big time in his 70s, doesn’t seem to fit with the mold of high polish and arrogance often seen at this level of horse racing.

Emotional experience

When that pretty chestnut colt with four white feet broke away from the pack and headed for the finish line, I don’t mind admitting I was whooping and hollering. The camera showed the joyous owner wiping his eyes with a blue and white bandana just like every farmer I’ve ever known carries in his pocket, rather than a thousand-dollar silk, monogrammed handkerchief.

As my sister later said to me, “You just know our Dad was cheering for that horse!”

This impressive, lowly horse has kept the triple crown hopes going. Figure on adjusting milking time June 7, the day of The Belmont Stakes, because it’s going to be worth watching.

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