After attending a cousin’s Kentucky Derby party for many years, my sports intrigue led me to Churchill Downs for the 2017 race. My friend Chris joined me for a venture into a muddy pastel wonderland, where the upper class suddenly takes an alcohol-induced tumble into low class for a cultural spectacle that resembles the illegitimate child of a Royal Wedding and NASCAR.
We bought general admission tickets for the infield. That turned out to be a giant party ground surrounded by a chain-link fence and a dirt track, above which loomed stands that sat more pastel-laden people just a bit more wealthy than we plebeians who didn’t mind a little dirt.
Soon after we entered the grounds, Louisville’s overcast sky parted and the sun peaked through upon the gathering below. Chris and I walked around a bit, eventually finding a grassy spot just beyond the finish line, not too far from the track. But it was only about noon, and we had a long way to go before the evening’s hallmark race.
On Derby Day, Churchill Downs hosts many horse races leading up to the Kentucky Derby, running about every 45 minutes. The Derby, in fact, was the 12th race of the day.
After a whole childhood of attending sporting events, it seems like I’d be able to think these things through, but I didn’t bring a blanket or chairs for us to sit on even though it was allowed. I knew we’d be waiting around for a while, but I guess I just assumed there’d be stuff for us to do. Though, since getting wasted was not on our agenda, there wasn’t much for us to do.
So I decided to make an investment at the souvenir stand, which certainly paid off, and got an all-weather blanket for us to sprawl out upon. I think I took about three brief naps throughout the day.
Since Chris and I were more interested in intellectually observing the rich drunk people rather than acting in solidarity with them, we walked around noting the various outlandish blazers, pants, and hats sported by the track-goers.
Among the most popular were a bright blue suit with pink tulips, a patriotic blue blazer with white stars, and a pink pattern with blue and white horses that my roommate Nick actually texted me about the morning of. He told me I missed out on a cool outfit. I was practically the only one that missed it, though, because I can’t even tell you the number of people I saw wearing that pattern as either a jacket or pants. My trusty sweatshirt-jeans-boots combination was plenty-practical for me for the day. And I had no regrets.
Chris and I did want to partake a little bit in tradition, though, so we stopped by a betting booth knowing less than nothing about placing bets on horses. I told him I hoped Battle of Midway would win solely because I liked the name. He liked horse number 9 just because of the number. I don’t even know the name of that one.
But the minimum bet was $50, and we’d blown our money just buying tickets. So a monetary wager wasn’t in the works.
Being the trusty adult chaperon that he is, Chris purchased a mint julep for himself just so we could partake in that tiny sliver of Derby folklore.
Finally, after we were rained upon for an hour or so, it was Derby time.
And two minutes later it was not.
They really don’t lie about the “fastest two minutes.”
During that time, we saw the horses for about 10 seconds. And I guess Always Dreaming had the lead for pretty much the entire race, but it was tough to see any details on the horses when they ran past so I couldn’t have told you that at the time.
Our experience peaked and ended as Always Dreaming was garnished with the roses and we made our way through the wet, muddy tunnel onto the unassuming streets of Louisville with a bucket list item officially checked off.
Before I return to Churchill Downs, I’d like to learn more about the actual sport of horse racing so I can observe as a more informed spectator, or dare I say analyst. I know Paul has probably already put in his application for 2018 Kentucky Derby Public Address Announcer, if that’s the official title of it. Until next time, so long, my old Kentucky home!