A Grand Assignment
By Blinkers Off

The longer Oaks Day goes, the lengthier the span of time between races. When the seventh race lazed into view — around 1:40 p.m. — there were 30 minutes to post, and it was time to fidget then time to ramble.

Rich swells from Millionaires Row, the exclusive boxes on the sixth floor, slid into the Media Only elevator before the door closed wielding attractive cocktails and an inflated sense of entitlement. When the door opened, it was upon a rolling, shifting sea of humanity.

The grandstand ground floor felt too crowded, not Who-concert-in-Cincinnati crowded, but bad enough, with betting lines stretching twenty deep and concessions not much shorter.

Tall, strapping frat boys in shorts and flip flops moved forward with little regard for the people below, their 16-ounce Bud Lights locked and loaded.

The attractiveness of the traditional big hats, sun dresses and open-toe shoes favored by Kentucky’s finest has been blurred by myriad tattoos, often firebirds. Note to low-fashion-conscious women: The above-the-beltline location on the back has moved up to between the shoulder blades.

Mint juleps were going for $9 and business was slow. Canned beer ruled.

If you haven’t been laid off, it is a grand assignment.

Cigar girls, like the cigarette girls from your grandparents’ heyday, somehow managed to light their customer’s fire despite the sling around their necks holding the tray in front of them.

There were the bald, hairy, fat, thin, muscled, flabby, tanned, pale, drunk, buzzed, flirty, anxious, friendly, fighting, black, white, red brown and yellow. The men who wore suits wore them well. The general mood was buoyant. The sense of this credentialed soul was that if you weren’t drinking, you weren’t having much fun.

Down in the belly of the party, you could learn a lot about your taste in the opposite sex. Heads everywhere were winging around to catch a look at a particular backside before it disappeared into the maw.

The paddock was way too crowded for the sanctity of the animals — again, the entitled rich — but the horse is a giving, tolerant beast and none of them seethed with the blood of Cat Thief, who D. Wayne Lukas kept chained to the back of his stall with six-inch shank.

Those writers who chose to stay safe and unsullied in the bosom of the Joe Hirsch Media Center were rewarded with a menu unmatched in any racetrack press box: Garden Greens and Frise, Country Succotash, Roasted French Cut Turkey Breast, Chipolte Rubbed Sirloin, Citrus Barbecue Country Ribs, Red Velvet Cake.

If you haven’t been laid off, it is a grand assignment.

Notes: Bill Ordine of the Baltimore Sun, however, did not make it. Plane tickets and credentials in hand, he was retired from his job in a massive purge of the newsroom this week…

Plenty of unconfirmed whispers — we can write that on a blog, right? — about Edgar Prado having marital problems. He has been riding terribly.

In the opener, he took Uno Peso back off a :26, :51 pace and then went outside for the most halfhearted stretch drive imaginable. In the Louisville, with Zenyatta scratched, he set sail on One Caroline, the isolated speed and 1-2 favorite, in :22 4/5 for no reason whatsoever and then almost put eventual winner Calvin Borel on Miss Isella over the rail in the stretch. Nice work.

Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, however, all the jockeys decide to let Laragh and Prado gallop around unmolested in the Edgewood on the turf …

John Shirreffs made a mistake scratching Zenyatta. The track had dried out and looked fine by the seventh. She would have toyed with the field …

There was plenty grumbling in the press box when Justwhistledixie scratched right after the first leg of the Pick 4. Losers in the first leg — Laragh — could not get a refund. The stewards said the information was not withheld from the public …

For those wondering, yes, Steve Byk is on his cell phone.