Blowing Our Horn
What's not to love about the Derby?
By Kevin Faris

During Derby Week, Louisville is the capital of the world. This lively, lovely city has a temporary population of foster citizens second only to China.

-John Steinbeck,

The Courier-Journal, May 5, 1965.

College basketball rivalries may divide the state, but on the first Saturday in May, we all come together in one big lovefest for one of our most proud traditions, the running of the Kentucky Derby.

There may be a lot of things to dislike about the city of Louisville; rivalries may persist; but while Keeneland is clearly a much prettier racetrack than Churchill Downs, it's impossible not to love the Derby.

For the 128th year in a row, the most important event in horse racing will trigger the arrival of celebrities, media, race fans, and Kentucky expatriates returning to their native land.

While the Derby is no longer the huge national event that it once was, there's no denying that it still holds a very lofty place in the sporting world. And despite the death knell that many members of the sports media try to sound regarding the Derby and horse racing in general, the most exciting two minutes in sports will capture the attention of the nation's sports fans.

You can be sure that there will be many articles written about what once was, when the Kentucky Derby was on the top of the sports world, and all the events that have surpassed it since. But in a world where the NBA playoffs last two months and the NHL playoffs lastwell (nobody is watching the NHL playoffs anyway so it doesn't matter), I still believe that an event like the Derby, a tension-filled, exciting race, can captivate the nation. What is bigger than the Derby? The Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NCAA Final Four. Any event that is still one of the top five sporting events in the world is holding up pretty well.

The party for the Derby has already been going on in Louisville for a couple of weeks. Thunder Over Louisville, one of the most exciting fireworks shows in America, kicked off the Derby season, and the pace of Derby-related events has not slowed down. What does the Kentucky Derby mean to the citizens of Kentucky? It is our time to shine. The focus of the world is on us, and when they arrive in Louisville we show them that we know how to throw a party. We know what a national sporting event should look and feel like. The Derby is about a lot of things: horses, bourbon, traditions, and parties. Fortunately, these are all areas in which Kentuckians excel.

Once the horse moved man's physical body and his household goods, and his articles of commerce from one place to another. Nowadays all it moves is a part or the whole of his bank account.

-William Faulkner,

Sports Illustrated, May 1955.

The field for this year's Derby looks wide open.

There is no Secretariat in the group, but there are plenty of really good horses.

The fact that there is no favorite means that there is also the opportunity to make a little money.

Please remember that all picks are for entertainment purposes only.

As of now, noted local handicapper Mike Battaglia has Harlan's Holiday as a 5-1 morning line favorite. If this happens it would be a record.

Harlan's Holiday should be familiar to race fans in Lexington because he won the Bluegrass Stakes rather impressively at Keeneland just a few weeks ago.

He's an Ohio-bred horse, however, and it's just not right to pick an Ohio horse to win the Kentucky Derby.

Ohio natives would not be happy if we went to Ohio and tried to horn in on their sports traditions (such as getting pummeled by the University of Michigan every year and bailing University of Cincinnati basketball players out of jail), so they should stay out of ours. So take Harlan's Holiday off your list, and it is rare that the favorite wins anyway.

Saarland seems to be the hot horse right now, despite finishing fifth in the Wood Memorial, one of the major Derby prep races. According to the Courier-Journal, he has since had throat surgery to correct some breathing problems, and has been turning in great workouts.

There is also a sentimental aspect to this horse, since the owners, the Phipps family (who have never won a Derby), recently lost their patriarch, Ogden Phipps. Greater forces could be at work here, so keep a good eye on this horse.

Came Home is another favorite, but he does not seem to be bred for the distance of the Derby. There's also Buddha. Pat Day blew off the Blugrass Stakes to ride this lightly-raced colt in the Wood Memorial. He ended up winning that race narrowly over another Derby contender Medaglia d'Oro, and he is my pick to win the 2002 Kentucky Derby.

Here are some superficial reasons for picking this horse. First, the name. Buddha. Close your eyes and imagine the call, "Down the stretch they come, and taking the lead isBuddha!"

And then there is Buddha's trainer: Bond, James Bond. Cursory research reveals, he's a horse trainer, not a British spy. The downside to Buddha is that the Kentucky Derby will only be the fifth start of his career. It is rare for a horse this inexperienced to win, but he could wear the roses this Saturday.

Of course, the winner could come out of nowhere, like Charismatic in 1999.

That's what makes an open field like this very exciting.

"That whole thing will be jammed with people; fifty thousand or so, and most of them staggering drunk. It's a fantastic scene--thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other, and fighting with broken whiskey bottles."

-Native son Hunter S. Thompson,

Scanlan's Monthly, June 1970.

The horses and Millionaire's row may be part of the glamour of the Run for the Roses, but the infield is where the people stop hiding the crazy.

They say that everyone should experience the infield once, and once is probably enough.

Mr. Thompson summed it up pretty nicely. This is where the raucous Mardi Gras, Woodstock, and MTV Spring Break-like behavior takes place. Attending the Derby in the infield is probably not a good idea if you actually want to see a horse or a race.

The chances are much better that you will see a topless woman, probably multiple topless women, rather than one horse. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The infield is sort of the underbelly of the Kentucky Derby. This is where you have to park in somebody's front yard and then hike a few hundred miles just to get to the gate. The infield is where you see some of the drunkest people you have ever, or will ever, encounter. There is not one person that does not return from a Derby infield without at least one story that starts with, "There was this one guy that was so drunk"

If you do not have a story like this, watch out, because it means you probably were that guy.

Of course, the Derby infield is going to be vastly different this year.

In years past, sneaking liquor into Churchill Downs was almost as big a tradition as Derby hats. Since Churchill Downs used to allow coolers and blankets and such, the average Derby-goer would attempt to alleviate the high cost of getting blitzed by sneaking in their beverage of choice. Some people would make false-bottom coolers, inject liquor into fruit, disguise it in water or soda bottles, or even hide it on their person. The security at the track was pretty diligent, but the ingenuity of Derbygoers was still legendary.

This year, however, all such outside party supplies are banned.

Churchill Downs says that this is a security measure in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

(Some dejected partygoers have surmised that it could also be an excuse to finally end the practice of people sneaking in liquor and to fatten up their own wallets.)

There will be two Thornton's stores set up inside, that will be selling water, sunscreen, and other products at prices comparable to those at their normal stores.

Regardless, this is still going to drive up the price of a day in the infield for anyone who attends.

Increasing security is understandable, but if you are not going to allow outside water or sunscreen, the least you can do is to provide a few things free of charge. Free water and free access to sunscreen would probably not blow the budget.

In fact, it seems likely there could be a sponsor or advertiser on these products to offset the cost.

Churchill Downs has a better history of responding to war times than this.

According to, in 1917 during the first World War, Matt Winn, the man who made Churchill Downs great, pledged 10 percent of all the money the track handled to the Red Cross. If he were still running the show, things might be handled more tastefully.

Regardless of where one sits at the Derby, part of the uniform of the day is a mint julep in hand.

- Bill Levy, The Derby by Bill Levy

Mint juleps, that tasty southern drink made with bourbon, is just one of the many traditions of the Kentucky Derby and the parties that surround it. It is not the Kentucky Derby without hearing "My Old Kentucky Home" or shopping for a Derby Hat, or drinking a mint julep or having a slice of Derby Pie.

Ooops, we may not be able to print the words "Derby Pie."

Ken's Market has exclusive rights to the name "Derby Pie" and they fiercely protect that right.

Regardless, even if you do not attend the Derby you can still include yourself in many of these traditions. Keeneland hosts a Derby event featuring wagering on the races, as well as official Derby Mint Julep stands.

As of press, they still allowed coolers, chairs, and blankets.

You could also host your own Derby party and watch all the hoopla on the TV. Buy some Maker's Mark pre-made Mint Juleps, pull out the silver julep cups and the crushed ice and you are well on your way. You can buy unofficial Derby pies at most bakeries and when your friends arrive, have a Derby pot with each person throwing in a dollar. This way you can still do some gambling, and maybe try to rig the pot so you get a good horse. Recreating the infield experience may be a bigger challenge.

Throwing a couple of kegs in your front yard always attracts the rowdies, or you could just stop by any local pub and haul a bunch of drunk college kids over to your house. Once you have them all together, try cramming them into the smallest room of your house. It should be a good time.

If you are a little higher in class than a reporter, you might be able to attend one of the many star-studded galas that will be going on this weekend.

The Barnstable-Brown party is the most famous and this year will feature celebrities such as Jessica Simpson, N'Sync, Cybil Shepherd, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Meatloaf. Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady will also be attending. It is highly doubtful that any of these guests will top the Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock combo from last year's party.

It would be great if someone would invite Britney Spears to one of these parties, although it would probably be awkward this year, what with N'Snyc and her ex in attendance.

The Grand Gala is the new big party this year, and it is the first African-American celebrity event held during Derby Weekend. Bernie Mac, Gregory Hines, and Vivica A. Fox are just a few of the celebrities who'll be attending that party. It is appropriate that there be a prominent African-American Derby party, considering the role that African-American jockeys have played at the Kentucky Derby.

The first Derby was run on May 17, 1875.

Here we are, 127 years later, once again getting ready for the most exciting two minutes in sports.

The Preakness and the Belmont may be great races, but as legs two and three in the Triple Crown series they pale in comparison.

No matter where you are this weekend, I am sure the Derby is going to play some part in your life.

It's hard to imagine being anywhere else in the world watching the Derby on television and not wishing you could be here, in Kentucky.