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What’s it like to go to the Kentucky Derby for the first time?

I remember it well. The year was 1998 and Real Quiet won for Bob Baffert. Indian Charlie, Favorite Trick, Victory Gallop. They were in the field.

Today marks Derby No. 16 for me. My wife’s been to a few less than that, but she might have gone to one before me. I can’t say for sure, she’s out right now taking care of those last-minute things ladies do before they hit the races.

Today also marks Derby No. 1 for my in-laws. They’ve been to the races before, Keeneland and River Downs mostly, but make the initial sojourn to Churchill Downs for the biggest day of the year.

It’s exciting and intimidating to bring first-timers to the Derby. More excitement no doubt since there is no better day to show the game on its most grandiose stage. Sure it will be crowded. Where will we bet? How long will the lines be for drinks, bathrooms, food? But if you know what’s ahead going in it’s not all that intimidating.

Hopefully we’ve done our best job at priming them for the experience of a lifetime.

Driving back to their house last night in Cincinnati after dinner I remarked to my wife how great it was they were about to experience one of racing’s great traditions for the first time.

Then I adjusted that statement.

“It’s not just a racing tradition, it’s an American tradition.”

And maybe after today, the first-timers will make it an annual tradition.