As someone who was born in Kentucky, graduated from the University of Louisville and lived in that great city for 10 years, this time of year is special to me.
Since my wife is also from the Bluegrass state, we throw a Derby party for our friends every year and while we live in the Palmetto state, we have just as much fun as we did when we lived there. The next few days will be spent preparing for that party but I wanted to put up a post for those not familiar with the Derby and I’ll try to give you an understanding of why it is special for those who love horse racing and really special for those who have a connection with Kentucky.
The Kentucky Derby is the first time 3 year old horses will run 1-1/4 miles in their young lives and this is what makes the Derby race so unpredictable and difficult to handicap. You not only look at workout times, jockeys, trainers and past race performances but you must also look into the horses’ breeding to find the ones who have the DNA to go this distance. Unknowns such as weather, post position (which is done by picking numbers out of a hat) and just dumb luck contribute to the outcome of the race and I don’t have to mention that the best 3 year old horses in the world are assembled on the Churchill Downs track during the fastest two minutes in all of sports.
Louisville basically shuts down a week before the actual Derby Week and there is a different activity each day (parade, Fireworks, Wine Festival, Steamboat race, etc.) and of course Chow Wagons stationed around the city where you can munch on carnival style food, drink beer and listen to live music every night. It is a magical atmosphere in the city which will culminate on the first Saturday in May and it’s understandable if you ‘mail it in’ at work during this time because chances are your boss is doing the same thing.
It’s not well known to those outside of horse racing or those who have never attended a Derby day at Churchill but the Derby race is actually the 11th race run on that day. There are two preliminary races but then the caliber and stakes of the subsequent races increase steadily until you get to the Derby race, but it’s not over then. There are two more horse races after the Derby races which are never televised but those at the track stick around to try their chances at winning some money and those who are local stick around to wait for the traffic to clear out. Another little known fact – the jockey who wins the Derby is scheduled to race in the 12th and 13th race but will be replaced due to commitments that he or she will be involved with after winning the biggest horse race of the year (and most often the biggest win of that jockey’s career).
One of the great aspects of Derby is the diversity of people who attend and I’ve been fortunate to rub elbows will the full spectrum. In college, I spent most of my time in the infield (rarely ever seeing a live horse) and partying with the younger crowd, getting muddy, getting into fights and generally trying not to get arrested. Later I was fortunate to have a seat in the Eclipse room (where you get to see the über wealthy make their way up to Millionaire’s row) and sit in one of the Governor’s boxes on the finish line. I can say without a doubt that I loved all those experiences equally well and they all had a special character that I will always remember so if you ever get a chance to go, be sure and walk in all areas to take in the culture of the different parts of Churchill on Derby Day.
With Derby only a few days away, don’t expect any new posts from me until after the weekend but you can follow me on twitter as I’ll try and live tweet our derby party and use the hashtag #derbyparty (along with a few other thousand people).
I’ll leave you with a few pictures of when we spent one Derby in a box on the finish line (I’m the bald guy). I don’t know what Heaven will be like but it can’t be much different that sipping a Mint Julep, smoking a cigar and watching the Kentucky Derby from box seats on the finish line.