By Arnie Leshin
With all due respect to turtles, call it the slowest eight minutes in sports.
That’s what will occur late Saturday afternoonat the usual site and annual date of the legendary Kentucky Derby. But no horsing around, for that new date is now Sept. 5 to kick off Labor Day weekend. And in its place at Churchill Downs in Louisville will be the (un annual) Kentucky Turtle Derby.
Why eight minutes? Who knows, it could be longer, but who knows how slow turtles can creep along on a race track? No previous events like this, so no previous record times, just keep in mind that the winner at the line can win by a turtleneck rather than a nose.
The race is more methodical marathon than a mad dash to the finish, and is just one offbeat sport that has had a moment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Now the Derby, the initial Triple Crown that leads to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Race Track in Elmont, N.Y., is America’s longest continuously held sports event, and May 2 has been one for the horses as the usual large spectator turnout sings “My Old Kentucky Home.”
It’s the first time the Derby won’t be held on its traditional first Saturday in May since 1945, where it instead was off and running on June 9. The federal government suspended horse racing nationwide for most of the first year after World War II ended in early May, but not in time to hold the first leg of the Triple Crown that month.
So this postponed Derby has left race fans shell-shocked and will yield to the legs of a bunch of slowpokes, Seattle Slow headlines, a field of turtles — yes turtles — that will race in the usual distance the horses take, maybe a mile, maybe a mile and a half, but it won’t be a sprint to the finish, it will be a slow steady race just fit for turtles.
With Old Forester signed on as a sponsor, the Saturday event is scheduled to go off at 5 p.m. (EST) on YouTube.com/OldForester.
Wonder how many times a false start will boot a turtle out of the race? And how about that, looking for a slower substitute, the first Kentucky Turtle Derby was hatched. Fans in the stands? Who knows, maybe horses, but if you don’t have good eyesight, you won’t see the little turtles after you hear, “And they’re off.”