I called Tom Law Tuesday afternoon to tell him when I was set to arrive in Louisville. He asked me what my plans were and if I planned on doing any writing. The answer was yes, if he meant by completing a 2,000-word research essay final due by Friday night that I had barely started. He mentioned writing an account of my first time at the Kentucky Derby. As he put it, “people love that stuff” and “they’d rather read that than a recap of (insert the name of one of 11 undercard stakes run Friday and Saturday).” So, here goes.
I saw the throng of media – some of which surely thought Aidan O’Brien was in the middle of the scrum – surround Mendelssohn’s breeder Fred Mitchell at least 10 deep.
I saw Annise Montplaisir for the first time since last summer. I doubt there are many better human beings out there.
I heard Sean Clancy tell me on my drive in he wished Ryan Moore would’ve made sure Mendelssohn took dirt in the UAE Derby. He certainly took some form of dirt Saturday.
I heard Joe Clancy tell me on my drive in that I have now been to one more Derby than him. It must be the outlandish fashion that keeps him away.
I saw a lady in heels chase after her hat while on her way into the track Thursday. Thurby, baby.
I saw the most alcohol containers I’ve ever seen in one place, left on traffic barricades just outside the track gates. America, baby.
I saw Ken Ramsey walk into the winner’s circle a few minutes before he watched Backyard Heaven duel Always Dreaming into defeat and then cruise to victory.
I heard credentialed folks complain about the selection of free food in the media center.
I saw credentialed folks repeatedly bolt to the food whenever something fresh was brought out.
I heard Tom Law narrate the folks bolting to the food. I laughed.
I saw Rushing Fall tell her jockey Javier Castellano he was getting too close when she nearly landed a blow with a hind leg as he entered the paddock. She clearly has some Lady Eli in her and lost absolutely nothing in defeat.
I saw Florent Geroux maneuver Monomoy Girl from the outside of the racetrack after breaking from the gate to the two path around the first turn while racing in third. I saw Monomoy Girl stick her head back in front as she passed near the sixteenth pole. She might not be the most brilliant Kentucky Oaks winner ever, but good luck passing her.
I saw Simon Callaghan walk to the winner’s circle after winning a Grade 1 with Kaleem Shah’s American Gal, who held off a challenge from Ivy Bell, a horse who ran in the China Horse Club silks. It’s a funny game.
I heard Tom Law tell me what the process was like to get into the press box for his first Derby in 1998. Times have certainly changed.
I watched from the third floor of the grandstand as John Velazquez worked out a perfect trip in getting Proctor’s Ledge off cover and into the clear at the top of the lane. She did the rest from there.
I barely heard a groan come from the ground as I made solid contact with a lady’s leg. She was sitting down, legs crossed, her back against a stanchion…clearly a few mint juleps in. She wasn’t the only one there that never saw a horse Saturday.
I saw Ben Colebrook – in a light blue suit that had turned to a rain-soaked navy – unable to stand still while waiting for Limousine Liberal to arrive at the gate. I saw the trainer and his help jump in exhilaration and embrace each other as their horse fought off all comers to arrive at the wire first. What a cool horse.
I saw a lot of people looking through their phone all weekend, trying to get the right picture to garner the most likes. They clearly did not have access to the media center and therefore didn’t realize that there were hundreds of actual photographers there to capture the moment.
I saw Rusty and Sarah Arnold walk to the winner’s circle after Funny Duck provided the biggest upset of the weekend. By the look of it, they were just as surprised as everyone else.
I saw Bill Mott successfully bring a grand looking bay horse off a seven-month layoff to win a Grade 1 in an absolute bog. Yoshida was the first WinStar horse with a big, white blaze horse to win Saturday.
I heard the roar as the Derby horses made their way over during the walk over.
I heard “My Old Kentucky Home.” I knew that would be the point it felt real and it certainly did.
I saw Justify walk back onto the track for the post parade and let out an expletive marveling at his stature.
I saw my dress shoes sunken into the Churchill Downs surface, covered in mud, and realized I was about to watch the Kentucky Derby from the winner’s circle. I haven’t wiped off those shoes yet.
I barely heard Travis Stone start what would end up being a stellar call of the Kentucky Derby.
I saw 20 relatively clean horses go by me the first time.
I saw one completely clean horse go by me the second time.
I saw a horse win the Kentucky Derby 76 days after making his first start and in doing so made history of his own in what is a historic event every time it occurs.