While the first Saturday in May is probably my favorite DAY of the year, the first week of April has to be my favorite WEEK of the year. For me the end of a long, cold Winter is marked not by the vernal equinox but by a few annual traditions that hold a special place in the heart of a boy from Kentucky.
The Return of Optimism
“My name is Brent, and I’m an eternal optimist. It’s been 25 days since I last allowed myself to whole-heartedly believe in the improbable. I was CONVINCED that Marshall University would break their 30 year NC2A tourney drought in the CUSA finals. I’m currently struggling with the belief that the Cincinnati Reds will somehow, someway win the NL Central Division in 2017 over the Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals…”
Ah, hope Springs eternal.
One of my earliest sports related memories is sitting on my front porch with my best friend opening packs of Topps baseball cards and quickly sifting through trying to find any players from the Big Red Machine…Davey Concepcion, George Foster, Joe Morgan, or if I struck gold, Johnny Bench. In the evenings, Dad and I would go watch our hometown Rookie League teams for the Yankees and eventually Brewers. I would spend Saturday mornings watching The Baseball Bunch (starring Johnny Bench) and then go out in the backyard and try to put into practice that week’s lessons.
Baseball and Spring were synonymous…and I guess they still are.
As an adult, the first week of April now means the return of Reds baseball, although not quite the same as the glory days of the Machine. Even without a lineup stacked with Hall of Famers, Opening Day in Cincinnati is a time for unbridled optimism (that, and a huge block party that seems to encompass the entire downtown). Can a lineup anchored by veteran and one time MVP Joey Votto and a bunch of young prospects challenge in the STACKED NL Central? Probably not…but on Opening Day, that hope is there, however faint.
On Monday, the Reds lost their season opener to Philadelphia….
Betting in the Bluegrass
I fully realize that a transition from baseball to betting is a segue that only Pete Rose could truly appreciate (by the way #FreePete). Still, the first week of April also means the return of horse racing to Keeneland.
My love affair with Keeneland started **cough, cough** years ago when I was in college at Morehead State University, which is about an hour east of Lexington. My roommates and I would head over for an afternoon when we didn’t have any classes scheduled (or none that we could remember, anyway). We’d always make it back to our dorm that night a little lighter in the wallet and thinking that going to class would have been a LOT cheaper…but not nearly as much fun.
We all have moved to different areas now, but we still occasionally meet up at the track when March turns to April. And yes, we usually still leave there a little lighter in the wallet than we arrived.
Like I said before, though, I’m an eternal optimist. Each Spring I am convinced that this is the year that I’ll solve the handicapping puzzle that Keeneland presents. For the record, it’s NOT an easy track to beat. The competition is tough, the wagering pools are huge, the races are big (sixteen stakes during this April’s meet), and the top owners, trainers, and jockeys are represented.
Still, I’m convinced this is the year I’ll turn a profit and get myself back in the black at my favorite track. So I’ll load my wagering account, study the forms, and take my chances.
Oh yeah, if you plan on betting Keeneland this meet, I have one word for you to remember…
The Third “B” of Central Kentucky
If you know much at at all about Kentucky, you’re probably aware that it’s remembered for Basketball and Bourbon, and I’m gonna be completely honest, I’m a big fan of both. There is a third “B” that the region is known for that a lot of people may not know…
My friends know that I LOVE to cook. Every April, I start talking about how anxious I am to make a big batch of burgoo for Kentucky Derby, and most people respond with something along the lines of “what the f*** is burgoo?”.
Well, burgoo is a traditional stew from the Bluegrass that traces its roots back to the Civil War era. Typically, it was made in large batches using whatever game meats and harvest vegetables were available on the farms, with venison, squirrel, mutton, and beef plus vegetables like lima beans, corn, tomatoes and okra. Today, burgoo is usually made with a combination of beef, chicken, pork or mutton, along with vegetables and spices – and yeah, bourbon.
Now even though burgoo was traditionally made during harvest season, it’s become somewhat of a staple at many Kentucky Derby parties, which is when I first started making it myself. If you’ve never tried it, Keeneland makes a pretty decent version that you can get at its concession stands and restaurants. At the risk of sounding cocky, it’s not as good as mine, but with some bourbon and cornbread, it is good enough to take the sting off any losing days at the track.
But like I said, I’m an eternal optimist.