The first few years, it was a novelty. Over the next 100, it became a tradition. The last 35, it has started to feel like an obligation. Because even Mardi Gras would become a drag if you lived in the French Quarter. Let’s step back a bit and remind ourselves why we should care about this.

1. IT’S NOT LIKE OTHER SPORTS. It’s a tiny man strapped to a half-ton animal running like hell around a dirt track. The main player -- the horse -- has no idea what is going on. The basics of the sport have remained unchanged since its beginnings. (For comparison purposes, consider the difference between baseball in 1875 and baseball today.) And since it only lasts two minutes, it’s impossible to get bored with it.

2. IT’S REALLY OLD. The first Derby was in 1875, just 10 years after the end of the Civil War, but before the light bulb, the car and indoor plumbing. Given how our disposable culture tends to, well, dispose of things after a while, it’s remarkable for something to continue on for 135 years, on this scale. So we keep doing it.

3. IT HAS AN OFFICIAL ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE. That beverage is the mint julep, which is bourbon, sugar water, mint leaves and crushed ice, and is so difficult to make that most people will never know what a good one tastes like. But they will drink the bad ones anyway, because after two or three, you can’t tell the difference.

4. IT’S A FONT OF ARCANE TRIVIA. Did you know that the jockeys used to wear spurs? Did you know that the grandstand once caught on fire on Derby Day? Did you know that the Derby is mentioned in a Rolling Stones song? Did you know that all the horses are related? Did you know that Secretariat’s heart was more than twice as large as a normal horse’s?

5. IT’S JUST A BIG DUMB THING. Women who never wear hats wear them to Derby. Steamboats race down the river to claim a pair of antlers. Arab sheikhs fly into town in private 747s. Kid Rock always comes, but he seems less like a rock star than like a wacky cousin you only see once a year. The race used to be longer, but they shortened it years ago, confirming what most of us have long suspected, which is that the Derby is the only major sporting event where the goal is to spend the least amount of time possible actually watching someone engage in sports.



1. Qatar
2. Singapore
3. Honduras
4. Belgium
5. Togo