ROSES, JULEPS AND EQUINE HEAVENS - Sports Illustrated Vault |
Publish date:



Although the Kentucky Derby is as encrusted with ancient clichès and traditions as any fixture in the sporting world, every visitor sees the roses and tastes the juleps in his own personal, singular way. These pages reflect the disarmingly "primitive" style and unfettered vision of the Italian-born American artist Oscar de Mejo, who, when he imagines horses in the sky, goes ahead and paints them there. De Mejo made his first visit to Churchill Downs last year and was struck by "the great nearness, a spiritual intimacy, I should say, between the horses and their trainers and grooms. Visiting the stables in the misty dawn of the racing day, I saw this fellow in blue denim taking his horse for a walk. They stopped nearby, and it looked as if they were whispering to each other. Mysterious words. What were they doing? I figured the groom was telling his horse all about the glory that comes with victory in the Kentucky Derby, because he was pointing at the sky, and in the sky wearing the roses, the symbol of victory, were the winners of the recent races."

Finally, the preliminaries are over, the horses are off and thundering down the backstretch, the famous old spires in the background. To de Mejo, "The horses seemed giants at whose necks hung little men tense to the point of bursting in the effort of winning and yet holding their mounts with an almost tender affection."

The crowd walks to, the crowd walks fro, but the crowning scene is in the winner's circle, the most hallowed real estate in American racing, where the roses are draped around the winner, evoking for de Mejo "the ghosts of many notables of past eras. But few people saw them, absorbed as they were in watching the ceremony."