The Kentucky Derby has been a nice little horse race. Created many a tie-in during its 125 years. You know about tie-ins. Get us to identify with your product and we'll do what you want us to do: buy your product, wear your colors, fight for country, hate the unknown.

The local folks of Louisville, my hometown, have long enjoyed the tie-in. Derby City we proudly call it. The first Saturday in May grew to become a time for women to wear frilly Gone With The Wind hats, men to don obnoxious yellow or plaid pants and sport coats with little winged horses decorating them. Scarlet O'Hara and Pegasus. Old South and Greek mythology. Finest kind of tie-ins.

It's easy to ignore unpleasantries like that 3rd verse of "My Old Kentucky Home", the one about "It's summer and the darkies are gay". And to forget that 'coloreds' had to use separate (but equal) entrances, grandstands and rest rooms until 1956.

But the Kentucky Derby survived that tie-in to become a weekend for everyone: a great time for two dollar betting pools over bottles of beer at a backyard barbecue even your girlfriend wants to go to when it's called a 'Derby Party'.

Then came some more or less logical tie-ins. "The Great Steamboat Race" came first. And that was good. Majestic old paddle wheelers racing for riverboat supremacy from the days of Mark Twain. Along came the "Great Balloon Race". No real tie-in. But a gentle, breath-taking creation of colorful behemoths floating over mist-shrouded horse pastures of bluegrass (takes an enormous romantic commitment to see the blue). It swells the pride-full breast of the increasingly important Derby Event promoter, coming as it does on the Saturday before the race. So seven days would one Derby Week make. Why Not?

Then came quirky little races like "The Run For The Rosť" with waiters from local restaurants running with trays of wine-filled glasses. A bicycle race, a 12k run. It's all good fun tie-ins. Why not?

Now comes an air show and fireworks display of gargantuan proportions called "Thunder Over Louisville" It's helped stretch Derby Week into Derby Two Weeks and growing. Maybe there's room for a year round festival. Like those Christmas stores that are open all year. Why not?

Problem is the part of "Thunder..." this year that is a 15 minute re-enactment of the Pearl Harbor attack. It's called "Tora!". Uses vintage aircraft from The Confederate Air Force, a non-profit, Texas-based group that keeps 'em flyin' lest we forget our glorious heritage of airborne carnage.

Never mind the slap-in-the-face to millions of Japanese unborn at the time of the cowardly sneak attack. Never mind the trivialization of the sacrifice of over 2,000 Americans who died in gallant defense that day. Never mind the simplistic stirring of xenophobia perhaps inspiring a new generation of hate-crimes against Asian-Americans. Why?

Maybe there's a Confederate Navy that could re-write, uh, re-enact the Gulf of Tonkin incident at next year's Derby Festival. Or they could help us Remember the Maine! Haven't hated the Spanish in a long time, have we?

It's been a nice little horse race. But in this decade of commercial tie-ins it can't be long before the Derby itself will have a sponsor. There's already the Fedex Orange Bowl, the Frito-Lay Tostito Fiesta Bowl. How about the Toyota Kentucky Derby?

Why not? Tora those tie-ins!

Courier-Journal coverage of Derby #125

Derby Party Bar-B-Que Sauce

"Thunder Over Louisville"

The Confederate Air Force


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