This year has marked my return to sports. Living again in the south somehow has rekindled my love for competition, rowdy fans, and the excitement of visiting a space purely devoted to exhibition.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY and witness the great race we call the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs was built in 1875 and was recently placed on the National Historic Register. When you enter the gates you can feel the history and immediately recognize the "twin spires" which have been used as the symbol to represent the track. Everywhere you look there is another bit of history reminding you that this race has been going on for 139 years.
The grandstands hold 50,000 patrons, but on this Kentucky Derby day there are up to 150,000 excited fans of the ponies. The entire event is steeped in tradition. Men are in sears suckers suits, tri-colored wing tip shoes and classic fedoras. Women are dressed to the nines but their hats are what distinguishes them as unique. You have never seen a hat brigade like this. In classic southern style men and women parade from grandstand to paddock all curious who will take this years "Run for the Roses".
The drink of the day is Mint Julep, a classic drink of old Kentucky. It is just one more reminder that you are on southern ground. Made of mint, bourbon whisky, sugar, and water it is a delicious cocktail and no Derby is complete without one.
As the Kentucky Derby approaches, you can feel the anticipation building. The horses are paraded through the paddock area. Here patrons get a chance to see at a close distance the horses running in the race. There is a huge field of horses, 20 to be exact. It is the premier race for three year old thoroughbred horses, and the first race in the series called the Triple Crown. The horses leave the paddock on their way to the track. Ten minutes left to place your bet at a betting window. The anticipation builds. The bugle player blows the call to arms. Looking around you can see there are a lot of people who have a lot of money riding on this race. Jittery Joe's, nail biters and others virtually praying to the Lord above.
And they're off! You hear this over the loud speaker. The race commentator tries to let us know who is at the lead, but it is so muddy nobody can really tell. One minute and fifty seconds later the race is over and ORB, horse number 16 has just won the 139th Run for the Roses.