The Kentucky Derby has many monikers, and each of them holds true. And every year, on the first Saturday in May, I can guarantee I will be in front of my television long before post time. Unless, of course, I’m in Louisville. That would be a fast trade.
Three years ago, I was lucky enough to find myself at Churchill Downs. Ever since then, I have been asked the same question whenever the Derby comes up: Does it really live up to the billing? Yes, yes, a resounding yes.
The Kentucky Derby, without question, is one of my favorite events of the year.
I will admit I am biased. I fell in love with horses as a kid, and my appreciation, adoration and respect for them has never wavered. They are intelligent and beautiful animals, and I learned a great deal from my own experiences around them. They are also incredible athletes — and nowhere is that more true than at the Derby.
In the 136th Run for the Roses, the race to the race itself is always a story in its own right, but this year, Lookin At Lucky has emerged as the favorite. Injuries play a role every year, and this year, Eskendereya’s withdrawal pushed Lookin At Lucky into the top spot. However, trainer Bob Baffert drew the rail at Wednesday’s post position draw — a move that doesn’t reflect his three-year old’s name.
Of course, the first Saturday in May has always been about much more than the race itself. The attire, the hats, the fanfare — it all plays a part in the Churchill Downs experience. For me, whether watching or attending, it is like traveling back in time. From the onlookers to the trainers to the perfectly groomed competitors, everyone is dressed to the nines. It reminds me of looking at black and white photos of baseball diamonds across America in the 1940s and ’50s. You don’t see the top hats and suit coats at the ballpark anymore, but you will find them at the Kentucky Derby.
And yes, you will find any and every variation of hat imaginable. While in Louisville, I learned the hat choice is crucial to a woman’s trip to the race. Appointments are booked long in advance, and most annual Derby-goers have a particular shop they frequent — some even their own milliner. Hats come in thousands of styles, colors and sizes, but there is one downfall: Sometimes, when worn properly, a hat can make it very difficult to see the actual race! I was told, upon inquiring, the cheer of the crowd would give away the results. I chose to watch instead.
And then, there are the behind-the-scenes stories. In 2005, a horse named Afleet Alex finished third in the Derby. Along with jockey Jeremy Rose, Afleet Alex went on to win both the second and third jewels of the Triple Crown, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Afleet Alex’s earnings helped raise money for a little girl named Alex Scott, who was fighting cancer. Both Alex Scott and Afleet Alex fought hard — and a collection of horse races introduced them to us, so we could help fight, too.
What’s the story of the 2010 Triple Crown season? It will start to unfold this Saturday. I, for one, will be watching.