And… They’re…. Off to the Kentucky Derby!
We woke up Saturday morning more excited than ever (some of us may or may not have woken up several times throughout the course of the night). The weather wasn’t looking optimal. We were looking at a 90% chance of rain all morning, with it continuing well into the afternoon. Rain or shine, I was really excited to enjoy my first ever Kentucky Derby. We coordinated shower times (8 people using a single shower, takes an awful lot of coordination and planning) made some breakfast and started to get ready. As the morning went on, the weather was starting to look a little more promising. We called a couple of Ubers to pick us up and bring us to Churchill Downs.
We got to the grounds about 11 a.m. and the rain was barely coming down. The radar indicated that it would stop about noon, and it did exactly that. We hung out in front of the main entrance for a while. We had a case a beer and a few flasks full of bourbon to be passed around. We took a bunch of pictures of our group and posed for a bunch with groups of random people.
Generally speaking, people were super excited to be there so it was fun hanging out and chatting with some of the random people we ran into. The Derby seems to bring out the some of the most unique fashion statements. This makes people watching very entertaining. Nate, Lacey and I took a walk over to the gate that all the celebrities enter through. We didn’t see anybody noticeably famous, though we did see a number of police escorts, limos and crazy attire.
For some reason, not one, but two separate news stations thought it was important to interview me prior to the Derby. The first was a news station out of the UK. When I asked when if/when I could see the interview, I was told “at some point in mid-August”. The second news station that wanted to interview me was based out of Japan. I didn’t even bother asking when/where I could watch this one. The moral of the story: foreigners love drunk Americans who dress like idiots.
We headed into the grounds about 2 o’clock in the afternoon to place some bets and take in the races. There’s 12 races leading up to the Kentucky Derby, which keeps people entertained all day long. We had general admission tickets, which got us into the very muddy, “standing room only” area of the infield. We walked around for a while, placing bets and doing plenty more people watching. The infield at Churchill Downs is so large that you can almost forget where you are. From many spots, you cannot even see the track because of the mutuel betting windows, bars, and restrooms. For this reason, the world’s largest 4k video screen is a great way to watch the races.
We placed our final bets for the big race. My money was on Irish War Cry. We also wanted to make sure we were able to enjoy a world famous, Mint Julep, at some point today. What better time than right before the race? We made our way back to the infield (we had done some exploring of the venue by going through the underground tunnel that connects the infield to the bleacher area) to get situated for the race.
Post time for the Kentucky Derby was 6:42 p.m. Shortly before that was the “Riders Up” call, followed by the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home”. Because of the sheer number of people near us, we couldn’t hear either of these but new race time was coming. We got situated in a spot where we could watch the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.
The weather cooperated for the good majority of the day, but the race track was still very sloppy. My horse, Irish War Cry, was in second place as they horses made their way into the home stretch. Unfortunately, he faded and finished 10th. The odds on favorite heading into the race, Always Dreaming, took the lead out of the gate and never looked back. It was the 5th straight year that the odds on favorite has won the Kentucky Derby.
After the race, they do some ceremonial stuff. Again, we weren’t able to hear much of this, as the party in the infield picked back up. We hung out for the final few races. I think they run a couple of races after the big one to try to limit some of the chaos. 160,000 people trying to leave Churchill Downs (which is in the middle of a rough looking, residential neighborhood) at the same time would not be very efficient. A huge majority of people leave immediately following the race. This meant that spots in the bleachers (where the rich people sit) were free game. We enjoyed a race or two from the bleachers, right at the finish line. We caught an Uber back to my sister’s place and crashed pretty hard. We got made fun of by a few of my sister’s friends for being “old” and “boring” and not wanting to go to any local Louisville establishments. We all had a long day and Lacey, Nate and I had a long drive to make on Sunday, so the rest was much needed.
Overall, the Kentucky Derby was a fun and unique experience that I’ll be “Always Dreaming” of, until I get the opportunity to go back and enjoy another first Saturday in May.