Kentucky Derby Time Again

“And down the stretch they come!” rings in my ears as I grasp my betting tickets hoping for a big winner. It’s Derby time again!

Horses race on a dirt track as seen from the grandstand overlooking other spectators.

And Down the Stretch they Come – Photo by Michael Dwyer

Every spring for the past 20 years I’ve made my way south to Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May for the running of the Kentucky Derby. It’s an event you should attend at least once – classy, mixed with crazy – I suggest you see for yourself how beautiful Kentucky is in the spring. Commonly called the “Run for the Roses,” the Derby is the most prestigious horse race there is. Thousands of three-year-old horses are contenders in January. They go through a series of prep-races with no more than 20 entering the starting gates that spring afternoon, rain or shine.

The excitement builds while filtering through the turn-gates of the famous Churchill Downs Racetrack. I’m just one of the 160,000 entering today. If you like, you may show-up at the gate and buy a $50.00 (2012 prices) infield ticket (the “good seats” sell out years in advance and are pricey). Also buy a program once in; it will help you with how to bet and it details all the races for the day. I then zigzag my way through the tunnel to the infield.

A woman serves two Mint Juleps in glasses with long mint garnish in both.

Mint Juleps – photo by Michael Dwyer

“Wow!” will be the first word that comes to mind – go to experience the event – not just the race. You will see all sorts of people from all over the world; some in their Sunday best, sporting new Derby hats, and others in college gear ready to party. Remember your camera, sunscreen and money. Consider comfortable attire; it’s a long day.

What to do first? Passing the food stands, the beer stands, the t-shirt booths, and the people selling Mint Juleps – I head straight to the betting windows to make my first bet of the day (races go off about once an hour). If you don’t know much about horse racing, just put $2.00 on any horse to win. Bet on a name that jumps out at you, such as PANTS ON FIRE.

Then, if you are 21 or older, buy yourself a Mint Julep, kick-back and watch the race. Win or lose, don’t worry about it, that’s why you only bet $2.00. And there are lots of races today, including the big one, the Derby. Ask everyone you talk to throughout the day who he or she is betting on. Everyone has a system, a plan, a “can’t lose” pick.

As the day goes on, you’ll be convinced why any horse could win the Derby. The energy builds and the crowd gets louder. The butterflies race in my belly like little colts in a circle (or maybe it’s the Julep?). That familiar sound of a trumpet comes over the PA. It’s Derby time!

A large TV monitor show horses racing

Follow the action on the TV big screens – photo by Michael Dwyer

People jump to their feet. “And they’re off!” Everyone desperately tries to follow the action on the TV monitors. They scream, they yell, and they try to remember who they bet on. You’re here among presidents, royals, and celebrities, all witnessing history. But they’re in the grandstand. Here in the infield you’re surrounded by thousands of common folk, just like you, hoping for a big win and dreaming of that new car or boat. Or maybe you’ll buy a racehorse of your own?

The tension is high as the field of thundering hooves crosses the finish line: PHOTO FINISH. A hush falls across the 40 acre crowd. “Who won?” The results appear on the screens; a roar erupts and travels like a wave from person to person.

Dwyer and Borel pose for a photo

Michael Dwyer meets jockey Calvin Borel, at the Kentucky Derby Museum, winner of the 2007, 2009 & 2010 Kentucky Derby Races

The excitement in the infield slowly dies. Take a good long look around, gather up your souvenir Mint Julep glasses and head on through the long tunnel back out. Only 364 days until it is Derby time again.

If you go …



About Michael Dwyer

Michael Dwyer is a freelance content provider. Michael writes about happenings in the Rochester area, travels across Michigan and destinations around the world. Contact him at


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