Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kentucky Derby Dreams Cashed

There are very few times in life when one can say, "My dream has come true."

Last Saturday as I readied myself for the 138 Kentucky Derby I realized that yes, I was going to be sitting under the Twin Spires for the biggest race of the Thoroughbred season, nay the biggest race of my life.

When you start laying down horse racing wagers at 10 years old, well, let's just say attending the Kentucky Derby becomes an automatic. So, for some 34 years I've dreamt of seeing 20 hopefuls burst through the starting gate as more than 100,000 fans cheer them on.

Over the course of my young life I've dreamt of making such a trip with my grandfather, who first peaked my interest in betting; my father, who in so many ways made me who I am today and my uncle Pete, who became a second father and a comrade-in-betting-arms during many weekend trips to Saratoga. Unfortunately, I've attended each one of their funerals, thus I made my pilgrimage last Saturday without them in person, but very much on my mind.

Waking up in Clarksville, IN under the comfort of someone else's home with the fresh dew of the previous night's thunder storms slowing evaporating into the sweet smells of a new day, "a winning day," I thought. And so it was.

The day before I made my initial trip to Churchill to watch the Oaks. (There's more on that at my video and blog post at Horse Racing Nation.) By the way, not only was my maiden trip to Churchill, it was also as completed as a "media member," thanks to Brian Zipse, managing editor of Horse Racing Nation. Now picture this if you will:

  • I found my seat in the media room with a welcome sign from Churchill Downs
  • I was amongst media members like Jeff Siegel of Horse Racing TV, Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form and "Hammerin" Hank Goldberg of ESPN and Todd Schrupp of TVG to name a few
  • Our view of the track from the 6th floor of the track including air conditioned accommodations, our own betting windows, complimentary buffets and drinks and a bulls eye view of the finish line
So for day two of my Oaks-Derby experience was more of the same of the previous day - a feeling of incredible good luck just to be here. Cashing winning bets was gravy. This kid-in-the-candy-story state of mind pervaded my thoughts throughout the day. Those being paid to do similar work for much more money (I was rewarded in so many more ways than monetary compensation) and much bigger institutions, didn't seem to have the same zeal as me. Maybe I was simply caught in my happy bubble of dream.

And I shared my rose-colored view with my Horse Racing Nation buds - Zipse, Mark Midland, Jasen Mangrum and Kevin Kerstein. As any of these bettors-turned-insiders can tell you, I pretty much talked non-stop in both sensible and nonsensical ways - think Jack Kerouac with his scroll and meandering thoughts. A few around me were kind enough to tolerate my stream of consciousness and laughed along the way. A few wished they were seated somewhere else. 

I soaked in as much as possible and even did a little work, shooting and editing a Kentucky Derby Pick 4 video with Brian and Jasen. (Hey, I needed to earn my spot.) I drank my Mint Julep, watched many ladies walk by in their Derby hats, noticed a few celebrities and failed to cash a ticket all day.

No matter, the day quickly melted away to the Derby - a race, as you know, in which I placed a near-miss $406 superfecta bet down. I also had a $50 win bet on Bodemeister.

The memories will stick for a lifetime, as I find it hard to believe my experience was just a week away....

My drink and my view

My greeting

Ladies in hats

Oaks Boys

Crowded paddock

Had to take this photo

A garden on a hat

Derby Winner's Circle

168,000 trying to leave at once


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