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May 3, 2008

Blown Away By Derby: Crowd delights in spectacle

LOUISVILLE — No matter how many years go by, it seems like each and every Kentucky Derby has its own theme.

This one was about being blown away.

While worried bettors scrambled to find a favorite in an uncertain field for the 134th running of the world’s most famous horse race, the usual array of finely-dressed females had a struggle of their own — keeping their hats on in gusty winds.

In the end, more than a few were seen chasing their head gear around the paddock, some of them having better luck than others.

Meanwhile, it was all about luck on the red carpet, where a cavalcade of celebrities approached in a fleet of Toyotas and Nissans, with the crowd craning to see which one popped out. The roar for some of them rivaled even the most heated of finishes on the track.

Of course, not everyone left it up to luck.

“I’ve been here all day,” said Lexington, Ky., resident Susan Moreland, who staked out the velvet ropes with a group of friends and had no knowledge of the racing going on around her. “I couldn’t think of a more important reason to be here.”

While Chelsea Clinton slid into Churchill Downs relatively unnoticed around Gate 10, NBA star Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat seemed more than ready for the waiting crowds, stepping out of an SUV and taking a few moments to adjust his hat and gaze at his reflection in the window.

Just behind him, a jovial Travis Tritt made his way down the red carpet tunnel that kept the celebrities dry and ensured their hats would stay on whether the predicted late-afternoon storms came or not.

Beyond the wind and the celebrities, it was another Derby Day at the Downs, the air tinged with excitement and cigar smoke and the question — “who’s your pick?” — hanging over everything.

At least for more people.

“There’s a horse race?” Moreland asked, laughing. “I might go check it out.”

There was indeed a race, and another day to be blown away by the Kentucky Derby.

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