Pratt: Non-Kentuckians should embrace Derby Day

Elliott Pratt

This is what Kentucky has: for two minutes on the first Saturday in May, the sun shines bright on ole Kentucky. What I’m about to write is either going to expose my out-of-state rooted ignorance or reveal that, unless you’re born and raised in the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Derby doesn’t mean anything.

This state is known for three things: basketball, bourbon, and horse racing, the latter being the best thing Kentucky has.

Growing up a sports fan in Tennessee, I’ve always acknowledged the Derby and tried to make an effort to watch it just to say I did, but that’s about as far as my attention went for the Bluegrass pastime.

It wasn’t until I moved to Kentucky that I realized that you Kentuckians make a big deal of this one horse race. With collegiate sports dominating this state, the Derby is the only professional sporting event that attracts its high caliber of national attention.

It wasn’t until I moved here that I learned that schools around the Louisville area close for Kentucky Oaks Day, the University of Louisville finishes the semester early, and that Saturday isn’t Saturday, it’s Derby Day.

So I embraced tradition and dedicated myself to observe the emotions a horse can bring out of a person, because it’s the best thing that Kentucky has.

I went to Kentucky Downs in Franklin to witness the madness of gambling on horses while also placing a small wager myself to join in the fun. It didn’t turn out too great – had I chosen Commanding Curve across the board rather than to win the thing, I’d have a few more bucks in my pocket.

I walked upstairs to find two open rooms with hundreds of tables with pencil scratched program books held by hundreds of inebriated individuals who would laugh at my ignorance of horse racing, because to them it’s the best thing that Kentucky has.

Men wore suits as if they were at Churchill Downs themselves while women wore dresses they’ll wear only once complimented by hats that only Lady Gaga would approve of if not for exception that is the Kentucky Derby.

I watched 40- to 50-year-old men scream and shout at the bar with the performance of a 3-year-old thoroughbred resting on their decision to call it quits or say ‘I’ll have another’ (pun intended).

Outside of those walls, families and friends gather as if it’s the Super Bowl. It is to them, because it’s the best thing that Kentucky has.

An entire week’s worth of hype all for two minutes, then it’s over. The celebrities return to their mansions, the commoners spill into another drink, another wager.

If you’re not from Kentucky, this may seem like a silly tradition, but that is what’s unique about traditions. Unless you’re a gambler or have any direct equestrian ties, the Kentucky Derby doesn’t matter to you.

It didn’t matter to me and it still doesn’t to be quite honest. But the stories that come from the Derby do. It’s the story of a 77-year-old trainer living a once improbable dream of victory, the story of two men’s vision and faith as ‘Dumb Ass Partners’ turning down $6 million for 51 percent stake in their colt, because they believed California Chrome could take the best thing that Kentucky has.

Basketball is divided, bourbon can unite, but horse racing and the Derby will remain after 140 years and counting.

From my perspective of the outside looking in, it’s those stories that make the Derby special, overlooking the idea of expensive suits, hats, and gambling, because when the bugler sounds his horn, the following two minutes are the best thing that Kentucky has.