Wanna bet?

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Racehorses, ca. 1895-1899. Pastel on tracing paper, with strip added at bottom, laid down on cardboard. 21 1/4 x 24 3/4 in. (55. 8 x 64.8 cm). Purchased 1950. © National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Racehorses, ca. 1895-1899.
© National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Time for sipping mint juleps. Ladies, break out that high-and-mighty hat. Gentlemen, pony up the bucks. The Kentucky Derby has pulled to within a length.

Here, we feel all the elegance of the event, tensing with the nervous energy of the contenders. Taste the transient moodiness. Even the blades of grass stand on tiptoe.

The horse in golden silks steps out of frame, gives you the sense you are right there, anticipating more action. The wild one in the background throws his head, his orange-silked jockey straining to steady. Like a chorus line, the horses’ legs prance up the field of the canvas, the real star of this show.  Degas places the horses’ bodies in a diagonal construction from the lower left of the canvas to the upper right, building a mounting tension.

From the usual chestnut field, I spot a gray. My pic for the 2012 Derby, Hansen (technically known as a gray, but white to me.) One of only 8% of thoroughbreds with this coloration who trace their lineage back to one horse, their thin gray line saved from extinction by The Tetrarch.

A white horse – think Apocalypse, Unicorns, knight-in-shining armor, hi-ho-Silver-and-away. The extraordinary, the mystical.  A hooved Justice, snorting vengeance.  Against the gates of a rigid, rusted status quo, the pale and rider pull away down the stretch. And we believe, against all odds, anything is possible.

Will Hansen take the roses, like Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm (1997), Gato del Sol (1982), Determine (1954) and his son Decidedly (1962)?  I’ll take that bet.

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