The Kentucky Derby has always been enshrouded in mystery for me. Words like Churchill Downs and Garland of Roses and Mint Juleps all have sounded mystical and awe-inspiring since I was a boy.
Reading stories like Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” and seeing images of horse & rider standing in winner’s circle talking to the media was exciting to say the least.
There’s always been a warm sentiment in the air in Kentucky (and around the nation) on that first Saturday in May. Whether it be the ever-warming Springtime temperatures or the sunshine that escapes just a little earlier in the morning and lasts a tad bit later into dusk, the human spirit comes alive and escapes a cocoon of sorts, I believe.
I have lots of memories tied to the timing of this event each year. And all of it has to do with life and very little to do with the race itself. Case-in-point: I’ve never been to a Kentucky Derby.
There I said it.
I lived in Kentucky most of my life (even just an hour away from Louisville at one point), and I’ve never been to the Derby. Sad, but true.
But, it’s the events that have surrounded the horse race that have made my attachment to this time of year so strong!
Friends getting married and having Kentucky Derby-themed weddings–thank you Rebecca DeSensi Sivori!–to hearing My Old Kentucky Home played at Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, while THE RACE itself was happening just an hour away have had their lasting effects on me.
Seeing tall hats, seersucker suits, and smelling cigars permeating the air at Keeneland made me long to be at the race each Spring!
But the event that helped tie it all together was the 133rd Kentucky Derby – 2007. It stands alone in comparison to the others, says the guy who’s never been!
It was the day Queen Elizabeth II visited Churchill Downs.
…And May 5th was also the day my wife-to-be and I were on a trail at Dale Hollow State Park.
(I remember the rain, mud, and asking her to marry me.)
She was patient that day (and, thankfully, she still is even in 2015). The Derby was in the background, at the northern part of the state. We were traversing the backwoods of southern Kentucky, as the rain continually fell.
But, this memory, like so many other Derby-time memories stands out vividly. They seem to all possess a life-altering aspect somehow.
Warmer weather. Re-birth. Life. Engagement.
Maybe one day I’ll own up to the tragedy that is –> never pit-stopping in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. I’ve been told it’s unthinkable to have lived almost 3 decades in dear Bluegrass country and never seen the race in-person…Witnessed Calvin Borel’s magic…Met Michael Jordan. Etc.
But to all this I say, it’s still been magical — just from afar.
God has blessed us. Besides, I might wear that top hat yet.