News and Tribune

May 3, 2013

NASH: How do you celebrate the Derby?

Local columnist

It’s that time of the year again when the eyes of the world look to Louisville for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. If you judge by just turning on the television it would seem that everyone is excited about the big race that happens every year on the first Saturday of May, but that is not actually the case. The people I know are split into three groups when it comes to their feelings on the “Run for the Roses.”   

Some of my friends live for the day, or at least the two weeks that lead up to a horse race that lasts only two minutes. They get excited when the official poster of the “Kentucky Derby Festival” is released. They are first in line when the “Derby Glasses” go on sale. They have a collection of “Pegasus Pins” that dates back to the mid-80s. They also line the banks of the Ohio River to watch North America’s largest fireworks display and then come back a week and a half later to watch the world’s slowest boat race.

They don’t get a lot of work done during Derby week because of the festivities, so in recent years their bosses have let them take half days on Wednesday and full day off on Thursday. They have never worked on Oaks Day, whether they were going to the race or not. Now the local school districts have even gone to planning off days. New Albany-Floyd County Schools schedule Oaks Day as a snow make-up day.

These are the people that think the “chow wagon” is the only place to eat during Derby week. They think that a Mint Julep is a tasty drink, and a bargain at $8. They buy a new hat each year to wear to the track and they can tell you who was the jockey that won last year’s race, or any year when they actually cashed a winning ticket. I won $103 in 2009 with Calvin Borel on Mine That Bird.

They know the words to “My Old Kentucky Home,” or at least the first two lines of the first stanza. Of course most of those singing don’t realize that the words they are reading off of the Jumbotron at Churchill Downs are not the original from the Stephen Foster song. While it has been the state song of Kentucky since 1928, it wasn’t until 1986 when someone realized that the word “darkies” might be racially insensitive, so legislation was passed to change the word to “people.”

The middle group of people I know are indifferent. They realize that something is going on in the metropolitan area but they are not exactly sure what it is. They point out that traffic is a little hectic and then you remind them that the Derby is tomorrow and they act surprised. They are a little apprehensive about putting $1 into the office pool because they don’t know anything about horse racing and still seem unsure when you explain you just draw a name from a hat.

Then there is the third group of people. They truly don’t understand what all of the fuss is about. They are actually disgusted by anything that has to do with the Kentucky Derby. They cringe at the thought of drinking a bourbon drink with a leaf sticking out of it.  

They try their best to get out of town whenever they hear the airplanes practicing for the Thunder Over Louisville air show. They are proud of the fact they have missed the fireworks display for a perfect 24th straight year.

I fall somewhere in the middle of these groups. I don’t get real excited, but sometimes I enjoy the fun. I have been to Thunder Over Louisville about five times — the last time I went I nearly froze to death with three small children. I found a great seat on the wharf in front of the Belle of Louisville because I was convinced it would be cruising during the show. It turns out it stayed right where it was docked and blocked my view the entire time.

I have been to the infield of the Kentucky Derby three times, but have never been to the Kentucky Oaks. Each year, as I watch on television, I think to myself that maybe I’ll find a way to go the following year, but it never works out that way. I think it would be fun to watch at least once from the stands, but I’m not sure if I can afford that.

I like to make a few friendly wagers on the race, but nothing too crazy. I lay down a few exotics, and usually try to pick a few of the long shots.  It just makes it a little more interesting and gives you something to brag about ... If you win.

The Kentucky Derby is horse racing’s biggest single day and won’t be going away anytime soon. A 2011 economic impact study determined that the Kentucky Derby Festival generates nearly $130 million for the local economy, including Greater Louisville and Southern Indiana. It is a big deal to a lot of people around these parts and it’s a shame that not everyone can enjoy the greatest two minutes in sports.


— Matthew Nash can be reached at