PINE NUTS: Kentucky Derby and the Calaveras Frog Jump |

PINE NUTS: Kentucky Derby and the Calaveras Frog Jump

Took a tour of Churchill Downs in Kentucky yesterday and got to see everything but the race. One nice thing about being a Mark Twain impressionist in the 21st century is the possibility that strangers will walk up to you and start talking to you as though they’ve known you all their lives.

This happened yesterday at Churchill Downs when a young jockey felt a kinship, saddled-up alongside, and started right in …

“Mr. Twain, may I share with you an interesting incident?”

I said, “Of course, son, that would please me greatly.”

“Well, I’m Tim, Mr. Miner’s jockey, you probably heard of him.”

“Yes, an excellent trainer, excellent.”

“Well, this last May, just one half hour before post time, the track steward, Lord Winderschmere, was making his rounds to make sure everything was proper in the paddock, when he entered our stall. Well, Mr. Miner was just about to give our horse, Emma Quick Chick, a sugar cube when Lord Winderschmere stopped him short and said, ‘Mr. Miner, we don’t give our horses anything this close to post time.’

“Mr. Miner protested that it was merely a sugar cube and tossed it into his mouth. ‘Here, see for yourself.’ And he tossed a sugar cube to Lord Winderschmere. Lord Winderschmere tossed it into his mouth, raised his eyebrows, and sauntered away.

“Mr. Miner then turned to me and instructed, ‘Keep her on the rail, nobody’s going to pass you unless it’s Lord Winderschmere or myself.’”

I chuckled and thanked the young man for his story, and I was about to return the favor with a story about a jumping frog when I heard the honking of a horn coming from our bus and realized they were honking for me, but I had to pee like a race horse and so I trotted off to the restroom.

I did get a good picture of one old sway-backed mare that had been put out to pasture, but missed out on the Race for the Roses and my chance to make some easy money. I guess I’ll have to return next May for my Mint Julep. I just hope Emma Quick Chick is one of the 20 horses entered and she’s not entered in hole number 17, because hole number 17 has never won a Derby. My chances of getting rich might be improved in the third weekend of May when Angels Camp hosts the Jumping Frog Contest.

The last time I attended the Jumping Frog Contest my frog, named “Worthless,” lived up to his name, took one short hop and plopped down like a scoop of mint ice-cream. To make matters worse I found a parking ticket on my windshield when I got back to the car. I had not taken seriously the sign posted there in plain sight … Frog Parking Only — All Other Will Be Toad!

Next to the Kentucky Derby, which lasts two minutes, there isn’t a sport in the world that can touch the Frog Jump in Calaveras, and it lasts four days. And I imagine with a good travel agent we might be able to catch them both …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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