Derby Days Are Here Again – 139th Kentucky Derby

Joel Rosario aboard Orb (16) wins the 2013 Kentucky Derby. | Mark Zerof Photo

Joel Rosario aboard Orb (16) wins the 2013 Kentucky Derby. | Mark Zerof Photo

Congratulations to Orb and jockey Joel Rosario for their strategic victory in the 139th Kentucky Derby. This was Rosario’s first Derby victory and the first for Shug McGaughy, 62, the famous Lexington-born trainer.

Golden Soul placed second and Revolutionary came in third.

The track was a sloppy mess at Churchill Downs, as rain fell all day in Louisville, but Rosario had the restraint and confidence to hold his horse back, even falling to 17th place, as Palace Malice set the fourth-fastest pace in Derby history through a mile.

Entering the homestretch Rosario steered his mount wide of the pack and turned Orb loose, who had plenty of steam left over the last quarter-mile to run past the weary competition, and win going away by 2 1/2 lengths.

The Derby is an exercise in patience. For the horses, owners, and trainers, it’s a three-year process. For those attending, it’s a long day’s wait for two minutes, especially when the weather isn’t cooperating. But what a two minutes it can be.

I used to go to the infield quite a bit in high school and college. That is a quagmire of humanity that is not at its very best. If you are looking for some drama try the infield of the Kentucky Derby. Love is found, love is lost and there is lots of fighting in between.

And it’s not just drunk frat boys. There are little old ladies that get savage over where they place their portable chairs. Knock into those gals and they will swing a purse at your head with malicious intent.

Moore's Point, Frankfort, Ky.

Moore’s Point, Frankfort, Ky.

I’ve sat in the grandstand too, and it’s not much better. This is one of those events where people who don’t drink that much on a regular basis, decide to go house and drink a ton. The results are generally unattractive.

Few sights are ghastlier than seeing a woman wearing one of those poofy-Derby dresses with the huge hats, all bent over, yacking into a trash can by the third race.

Vomit sticking to lime green chiffon is No Bueno!

There were 151,116 people at the Derby Saturday, the ninth largest crowd in history. When you get that many people together with enough bourbon to sink a battleship, drama will ensue.

That being said, those that can drink with skill and are looking for a date will find Derby to be a target rich environment.

That’s what’s cool about Derby, it’s an interactive event. Folks can either go to the race itself, attend numerous parties, balls or family gatherings, and if there is a horse that stands out as worthy of your support, there are plenty of folks willing to accept your wager as a show of support.

Bet early while the lines are short, and before intoxication preys upon otherwise sound judgment.

Derby 2Nineteen horses left the post on Saturday. Everyone has to choose his or her favorite to win.

Maybe it’s the horse’s name, the jockey, the story behind the owner, or the trainer – it can be the color of the horse or the jockey’s silks. Whatever it is, everybody has a story to tell about why they picked which horse. And telling that story always sounds better while sharing some bourbon.

That’s what Derby is, a big mess of people swapping tales over militantly strong cocktails.

There were 13 races on the card today at Churchill, and the Derby was number 11. The first race went off at 10:30. That leaves eight hours to kill.

What happens is the anticipation builds as each race passes.

People change their favorites and bet some more. Then the betting lines start getting real long as procrastinators finally step up to the plate. Eventually the lines get too long for those who have already placed wagers and their favorites are now locked in numerically.

All these people are walking around holding little squares of paper, talking to themselves passionately. The horse’s number, finish position and amount wagered. Names no longer matter; they are replaced by merely uttering a horse’s number.

Patience, patience as the races slowly pass.

There is a noticeable ripple in the Force when the 10th race is called. Once that is over the energy inside Churchill Downs skyrockets.

A palpable wave of adrenaline blankets the venue as 90 minutes are left until we find out who is right and who is wrong.

By 6:00 PM it’s a frenzy when the call to post is sounded. On the infield clothes have become optional.

As the University of Louisville Marching Band plays “My Old Kentucky Home,” friends and strangers are arm-and-arm, swaying back and forth as they sing along.

The horses take what seems like forever to load into the starting gate, and surprisingly the energy kicks up another notch.

What’s fueling all this is money. That’s why Derby’s energy level can’t be matched by any concert.

Going to see music is based upon adulation. Attendees “like” an artist, but no money is on the line.

Derby offers the potential to change a person’s life.

What if…?

There are people who have bet their mortgages on a horse. That might not be the wisest move, but what if they win?

Nothing gets peoples’ attention like the possibility of winning money.

Plus there are folks on Millionaire’s Row who have bet stupid cash on these creatures.

At 6:24 PM, you can feel the money in the air. It’s a different kind of intoxicating.

“And they’re off…”

This whole day has been about waiting and now it’s moving way too fast. Instantly one-third of the field is out of contention.

The screaming intensifies.

Usually the favorite never wins, but he did this time.


He came in at 6-1.

The Llama prepping for Derby at the Governor's Downtown Derby Celebration in Frankfort, Ky.

The Llama prepping for Derby at the Governor’s Downtown Derby Celebration in Frankfort, Ky.

A $2 bet paid $12.80, $2 exacta, picking the first and second horses correctly, paid $981.60, a $2 trifecta paid $6,925.60, and the superfecta was $28,542.

Louisville may not have the grandest nightlife in the country, but it’s a damn fine town to be in after Derby. A lot of money was won today, and the folks holding it are sticking around town to play. That kind of cash goes a long way in Louisville. I shudder to think of the possibilities. I would hurt myself.

Next up the Preakness, then the Belmont Stakes.

It’s been 35 years since the last Triple Crown winner, why not Orb. What if…?

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