Originally published on the Vancouver Sun blog, July 27, 2015.
People are their truest selves when at the crest of a rollercoaster as the wind hits the back of the throat; that moment immediately after orgasm as the body tingles with paralysis; and when their money is riding along with a horse, clinging to the jockey’s back, eager to dash across the finish line first.
At the Deighton Cup this past Saturday, all levels of octave escaped from the lungs of those betting on the horses. Hands and arms lashed out in ecstasy, desperation, hope, and defeat. Legs prompted bodies to jump on table tops. Teeth bit lips, mouths gaped open. Cussing hitched short four-letter words into a long-haul train of blasphemies. Kissing and hugging and high fives traveled between strangers and friends. It was a complete release of unadulterated emotion, and a sight to see how the excitement of winning (or losing) affects the body and mind.
Produced by The Social Concierge and DroskiTurner, this year (named Lucky Number Seven) was the largest Deighton Cup yet. Colourful feathers and veils, cravats and suspenders swept throughout the entire Hastings Racecourse enclosure, sharing the space with racing regulars, and creating a curious oil and vinegar pattern of baseball caps and straw hats, wingtips and runners. I enjoyed the contrast – a spectrum of society. And, when those gambling emotions welled up, you could see how everyone was the same. Underneath those fancy clothes, beneath the everyday attire, we show identical human reactions. That kind of intense mutual emotion brings people together.
I spent most of my day above the track, higher than the grandstands, in the Skybox, where the Cocktail Jockey Mixology Competition (hosted by Alex Black of The Vancouver Club) took place, and where I could see the coagulation of bodies below. Up there, on the roof, was a vantage beating all others.
For one, the mountains screamed their presence. Living beside them, it’s far too easy to take them for granted, but when I stop to look… my god. They are stunning. They almost seem alive and breathing, watching over their city, eying our behaviour. Rocky beasts with their backs hunched up in the air.
Then, the clouds encroaching on blue sky. Did you see them? Of course you did. Black and grey and white. They resembled a John Constable painting with layers upon layers of brush strokes. And you could feel them – that electricity pulling the hairs on your arms into straight antennas directed towards the sky. I hoped, desperately wished, the clouds would crack and release a tumult of rain upon the crowd – because, you see, I like to watch reactions. Can you imagine the wet scene?
Every so often the wind would gust, pushing or pulling the clouds closer. And hands would snatch at dress hems as they billowed like a parachute, threatening to expose that part of the legs that meets with heaven. There’s something about a skirt that has the geometry and weight to move so gracefully with any shifts in the breeze. A freedom. A lightness. A thrill for the legs. It’s no wonder the sensation was immortalized by Miss Monroe. It feels so damn good.
And, of course, there were the horses. The entire track was in our sightlines up there, the horses’ journey to victory beating through our blood. I waited for them to crop Pegasus wings, one by one, and lift off for the mountain valleys.
When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. – William Shakespeare, Henry V
The energy in the Skybox rivaled the rest of the affair – the madness of the Marquee and expanse of the concourse. With capacity for only fifty, the space was intimate and inclusive. Bartenders cheered on other bartenders, no matter if they were fellow competitors. The warmth and camaraderie of the restaurant and bar community kept me there, nested in the sky.
Sponsored by Bulleit, each contestant crafted a unique bourbon cocktail – there were details like pineapple cups, exotic flowers, or vintage glassware used for the themed drinks. Each of the four judges received a dose, which was then passed around for the crowd to taste. Cooties traveled on the rim of glasses and straws, but no one hesitated to try. All had an appreciation for taste and it was getting in our mouths despite any germs. Myself, a rabid hand-washer, didn’t even allow the thought to entertain me, it never skirted across my mind as my lips landed where ten before had sipped.
Every sense was stimulated up there. The sight of the landscape, the taste of the cocktails, the touch of the wind, the sound of excitement, and the scent – the perfume of cigars was heady, and curls of smoke sent dust from the oval into each nostril.
Once the last bourbon libation was poured, I returned downstairs to solid concrete. I couldn’t leave the grounds without leaning against the railing as the four-legged beasts thundered by. Patti Smith’s voice sang through the back of my mind as each hoof hit the dirt – horses, horses, horses, horses. They are magnificent creatures, aren’t they? I wonder how they look in the wild, galloping for pleasure.
Read more about the Cocktail Jockey Mixology Competition at Two for the Bar – a really fantastic blog covering Vancouver’s cocktail community.
Image by Talia Kleinplatz of Two for the Bar.