Kentucky Derby more welcome than ever
With the meanest of winters we just got through, the coming of May and its thoroughbred spectacle — the Kentucky Derby — are more welcome than ever this year.
The late-arriving spring. The brilliance of the comely thoroughbreds. The many entertainment types and other celebrities. All the money on parade. The clothes and lady’s hats. And more money. The rich and famous (or infamous).
Bystanders that pay no heed to horse racing somehow favor the first Saturday in May when the hallowed Kentucky Derby comes so fast to their attention.
“Let’s see the thoroughbreds. Let’s see how the other half lives.” Those are the mottos of the day.
In the usual field of 20 horses, only a few have achieved enough to have drawn any intense interest from segments of the viewing public.
Light-hearted and flavorful names like Hoppertunity, Uncle Sigh and Wicked Strong will have their backers.
Well-known trainers like Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Mike Maker are names people recognize.
The jockeys who annually have much to do with the winner and excuse-making also-rans will be back. Calvin Borel, Mike Smith and the back-to-the-business Gary Stevens are here again.
Even ESPN and Sports Center will pay homage to the Kentucky Derby. Some studio host will say, “All eyes are on Louisville today.”
Churchill Downs and its signature Twin Spires is the site.
The 1 1/4-miles distance is the longest race any of the three-year-olds have endured. The Churchill Downs home stretch is the longest they have ever negotiated.
A group of trainers such as Art Sherman (California Chrome), Peter Urton (Dance With Fate), Richard Violette, Jr. (Samraat) and Jose Garoffalo (Wildcat Red) don’t get to the Kentucky Derby very often. They will have their suits in good order even though they usually prefer chinos and polo shirts.
Hotel accommodations in the Louisville area and across the Ohio River in Indiana are long gone. Week-long parties as far away as Lexington are the long-awaited fare by the genteel and well-heeled.
The running of the fillies-only Kentucky Oaks comes on Friday, giving the celebrities practice with their mint jeleps and wispy hats.
And finally it’s Saturday. And toward evening, it’s the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.
The outdoor paddock will be teeming with gleaming chestnuts, somebody-bet-on-the-bays and almost-black chargers.
The jockeys and their various silks of maroon, cerise, aqua and canary yellows will be hoisted aboard their mounts.
Through the tunnel under the ancient grandstand the thoroughbreds will amble. Greeting their emergence will be the University of Louisville band, playing “My Old Kentucky Home” as the tipsy and teetotaler alike try to remember the words.
Twenty thoroughbreds will be loaded into the starting gate that’s perched at the top of the stretch.
Over 100,000 revelers will be at their stations in the grandstand and the crowded infield. The noise level will increase as the public address system blares with the call of “It’s post time.”
A bell will ring. The gates will spring open. And the sometimes cumbersome field will jump to their task that takes the winner just over two minutes to complete.
Spring will have finally returned.
The spectacle and eye-appealing nature of thoroughbred horses and Triple Crown racing gets its yearly notice.
And not a minute too soon this year!