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Off to the races

Special to the Salisbury Post

I can now relate to the famous British author Charles Dickens’ famous quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

My wife Gerrie and I were a part of the longest-running sport in history, the 144th Kentucky Derby, and experienced the most historic rain ever at the Derby. The three inch downpour didn’t deter us or the other 150,000+ in attendance as the party began at 10 a.m. sharp.

Most equate the Kentucky Derby with the one big race at the end of the day, but there are 13 racing events during Derby Day. There is generally a 40+ minute lag time between each race, which gives Derby spectators time to wander about, visiting friends and shopping.

Churchill Downs is more than just a horse racing track. The enormous facility also features gift shops, museums and dining facilities. Of course, huge areas within the track are dedicated to monitoring and placing bets on upcoming races.

Derby Day is sort of an ongoing party or social event. I often tell people it’s like going to an all-day wedding with horses and plenty of booze. Ladies hats and men’s outlandish suits were the norm as the crowds gaily moved about the track. Some were so outlandish I’m still wondering “Where the heck do you buy something like that?”

Mint Julep, the official derby drink, was being hawked by salespeople every 20 feet. What was interesting was that most of the people with the official drink were merely holding them. I never really observed anyone actually drinking the blend of spearmint leaf, bourbon, simple syrup and crushed ice.

The paddock area was dead center, allowing us a chance to have a bird’s eye view of the horses. Horses pranced around for a few laps along with the owners and trainers. It’s an interesting display that true horse people can appreciate, as it gives spectators an indication of the horse’s physicality and attitude minutes before the upcoming race. Some thoroughbreds seemed to be overly docile as they circled, while others were so wound up that two or more horsemen had to keep them at bay.

At last, near the end of the day was the big race. The 144th Kentucky Derby featured 20 thoroughbreds in the sloppiest mess I’ve ever observed at a horse track. The track bed resembled freshly poured gray concrete, about 8 inches deep with water floating on top. Gerrie and I had the good fortune of being on the rail as the horses passed in the “most exciting two minutes in sports.” We were soaked to the bone from three inches of rainfall and splashed over with gray mud.

Admittedly, it was somewhat miserable during the rains, but walking back to our shuttle after the Derby, it became apparent it was also the most exciting of times.

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