Kentucky Derby day
"Oh when you're sitting back in your rose-pink Cadillac making bets on Kentucky Derby Day..."
The big day dawns. May 7, Derby Day. The excitement in the air is palpable. Tracy and I have all TVs in our suite on (ESPN, Local channels devoted to pre-derby coverage) as we eat breakfast, shower and start our preparation process. We try to keep our eyes and ears peeled to the buzz about the horses, since neither one of us really has a clue where to place our bets. The name 'Afleet Alex' keeps coming up as a real contender and I log that name.
At last the moment arrives. Time to put on our derby hats. Never underestimate the importance of hats at the Kentucky Derby. It is a wonderful, whimsical tradition that makes everyone feel beautiful and certainly very happy. A big part of the Derby experience is hat watching.
We get out the camera and Marianne takes some shots of us before we leave. I must say both Tracy and I were all the way in the spirit of things as we rode down in the elevator and Marianne shepherded us through the crowded lobby. You could hear the comments from people who had already been hitting the juleps at 1:00 pm, " ah shore as hell am gonna stay out of yer way, ma'am!" Marianne is awesome.
We ride through the streets of Louisville toward Churchill Downs, our hats filling all the space in the back of the car. It is much different today than it was yesterday. People are dressed to the nines, where yesterday they dressed more to the sevens and eights. Upon arrival at the entrance gate there is much more excitement among onlookers, and the hats floating by are amazing...magical. I think, 'this is great! A time and place where imagination rules, and no one is rolling their eyes, shaking disapproving heads murmuring "TACKY!" '.
Upstairs in the jockey club we are received by the Barnstable Brown sisters who are our hosts for the weekend. They are having lunch (filet mignon, lobster, asparagus, coffee-milk...other delicacies) with other members of their family, and they invite us to sit down with them and eat. After a few bites we all move outside to a table on what is called 'Millionaire's row'. The best seats in the house maybe. We are seated at a table with Meatloaf and his wife, and a lovely couple from New York who we make friends with immediately. Tracy and I have discussed the whole mint julep thing in great detail, knowing that neither one of us has much capacity for amber liquor, we go slow. It is going to be a long, full day and we both want to be present to enjoy it. Having said that, there is bourbon everywhere, and just taking a breath sort of produces a contact swoon.
We start placing bets using the same technique we used yesterday...read up on the horse and rider, think about the name. We start out with smaller bets and do moderately well. The next table to our right is the house of Usher. He is there with his mother, other family members, security people etc. and is a very big distraction for press people and fans. It seems everyone is calling his name for hours and pointing their camera phones and cameras at him, even as the horses rush by. Finally, he sits down in his seat with his back to the people and puts on his headphones, the only way he can get a moment's peace. In a strange moment of revelation, looking at this handsome, talented young man, this A-list, most desired, highly paid person of the moment, I feel lucky.
As the races go on, our luck seems to turn. We up the ante and get more serious with our money. The fine glow of the afternoon changes as the biggest race of all, the Derby gets closer. Everyone around us is talking horses. The names shoot around us like bats...'Sun King', 'Giacomo", 'Afleet Alex'...everyone has their own idea based on information gotten from some secret inside source who will win the big race and take the day. I believe it will be Alfleet Alex. I just have a feeling about this horse, and I'm not alone. They have been hyping the horse all day long on the TV event coverage. We put our money down and grit our teeth.By this time, the infield at Churchill downs is one huge party. People are camping, grilling, drinking, wearing costumes, sleeping in the afternoon sun and waiting impatiently for the moment. Radio and TV stations broadcast from the infield, capturing the true crazy nature of the Derby down away from millionaire's circle. Back up in the stands, Tracy and I order a mint julep and take deep breaths.