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Hitting the big time while betting at Churchill Downs

Natives of Louisville, Ky., pronounce it loo-a-val, or shorten it to luv-al, spoken from the top of the throat. Bluebloods say it through closed teeth, hardly moving their lips, and only a commoner would pronounce the s or, heaven forbid, say loo-ey. This is all the evidence anyone needs to know that Louisville is the northern-most southern city and not the southern-most northern city.

(Well, that, and Churchill Downs, and the Kentucky Derby, and Mint Juleps, and, and bourbon, and yes ma'am, and y'all.)

So, during a recent visit, I sought to straighten out exactly how to say Churchill. I asked our hosts, "Is it Church-hill, Church-ill, or Church-al?"


"It's not a dumb question," I defended myself.

"It's dumb," someone said.

Once we arrived at the track and found our box I sent my husband to get a program and Mint Juleps, which I discovered are not at all what the name implies. They are not minty. They are not sweet. They are not green. They do not have creamy froth on top.

Surprisingly, a Mint Julep tastes like straight brown liquor over ice with a sprig of fresh mint for garnish. And it wasn't long before I brought up the whole Church-hill, Church-ill, Church-al debate.

"Here," my beloved said, handing me the program, "pick a winner for the next race."

"How can I tell which one will win?"

"That's the whole idea behind gambling," he said, taking away my drink.

Off we waltzed to the Paddock, determined to gamble away the children's college tuition $2 at a time. As the jockeys and horses paraded by, I started selecting possible winners.

"Ooh, number 13. Look how handsome he is. Short, but handsome."

"Lucy, you can't pick a horse based on how the jockey looks."

"Why not?"

"Because number 13 has only placed in two of its last 14 races," he said, directing me to the stats in the program. Then to bolster his logic with reason he added, "And 13 isn't a lucky number."

Thirteen won. But we bet on 10.

Next race, I announced, "Put it all on Grease Monkey. I like the name."

I readied a big I-told-you-so as Grease Monkey slipped around the track a full body length ahead . . . until the final 100 yards. He finished last . . . by a full body length.

A new strategy developed. "Number 4," I said. "He has pink and green silks. It's like a Lilly Pulitzer fashion show."

"Then let Lilly pick 4. The odds are 20 to 1. Let's go with number 7. The jockey has black and white checked silks like a NASCAR flag. I bet that horse is fast."

It wasn't.

Still, some folks were winning big money at the track. The superfecta paid out $1200 in one race, $34,000 in another, and $68,000 in yet another. The numbers provided inspiration. My husband disappeared and came back with another Mint Julep, for me, and a bet stub for himself. The superfecta - horses 7, 3, 1, and 11, in that order.

Eleven bolted out of the gate followed by 1 and 3. Seven worked to close the gap. As the field of horses entered the last turn my soul mate exuberantly yelled about Daddy buying dinner tonight and baby getting a new pair of shoes.

They crossed the finish line in correct order. He steadied himself and grabbed my Mint Julep and took a long swig. We pensively waited for payouts to flash on the board in the infield.

Clarification of the pronunciation of Churchill flashed up in bright lights -

Superfecta payout: $17.50.


(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. Lucy invites readers to send comments to and visit her web site,

Web posted on Thursday, November 20, 2008

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