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May 5, 2013

Oh, the humanity: Derby brings rain, excitement

LOUISVILLE —

The 139th Kentucky Derby went off under an overcast sky that left many of the more than 150,000 horse racing fans in attendance wet and muddy. But, with wild cheers as the powerful colts rounded the track and the sound of clinking mint julep glasses, it was clear Derby goers' spirits weren't dampened.

Men in head-to-toe baby blue seersucker suits and women in their Sunday best and large, ornate Derby hats trampled through deep rain puddles, mud slicks and discarded trash throughout Churchill Downs. 

In the shadow of the grandiose twin spires, on Derby Day, the traditional lines between social classes become jumbled, contorted and almost dizzying.

A young man was seen wearing only frayed cargo shorts and aviator sunglasses while carrying a light beer in a plastic cup. Nearby, another man wearing a designer suit, wicker fedora and slick leather loafers clamped a $23 cigar between his teeth and sipped on a glass chalice half full of imported beer.

At the Kentucky Derby, perhaps the Halloween of porting events, a person can be anyone they want to be.

The continuous light rain throughout the day caused crowds to congregate under the open-air overhangs to keep dry. People were packed so tightly as they moved from one point to another, the atmosphere, in some places, was more like a sold-out rock concert than a typical day at the Downs - and that was outside of the paddock. The infield was a whole other spectacle.

The seersucker and fedora folks were much less noticeable in the wet grasses of the track's nucleus.

A younger crowd filled the infield, where the environment was more Mardi Gras than genteel southern sophistication.

Large, oddly shaped, colorful plastic containers filled with sugary booze fueled many of those in the infield masses. 

While near Millionaires Row a woman in a high-heeled, Italian leather pump may delicately step around a puddle of rain, in the infield 20-something men sloshed through the mud, carelessly kicking up brown water on their legs and shirtless backs. 

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