Any Kentuckian knows that the Kentucky Derby is one of the best holidays of the year. School is almost out, flowers are blooming, and the sun is finally shining for one of the most exciting weekends in horse racing. The Kentucky Derby, an annual event that has taken place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky since 1875, is not one to miss. Commonly known as "the most exciting two minutes in sports," the Derby received such a name in connection to the amount of time it takes for the horse to finish the race. The horses — Thoroughbreds, specifically — run a race of one and one-quarter miles on the dirt racetrack, and the champion earns a winning purse of $2 million.
Alongside a monetary prize, the winner of the Kentucky Derby also receives a garland of roses, which is why the Derby also takes on the name "Run for the Roses." Each year, a garland of more than 400 roses are sewn into green satin and placed upon the jockey and horse who won the Derby.
The Kentucky Derby is a race unlike any other.
The Kentucky Derby, as well as Derby weekend itself, has held a special place in my heart since childhood, just like any other Louisvillian can relate to. My parents always decorate our home with Derby themed candles or wash rags, with a jockey flag waving outside on the front porch. The weekend is filled with the utmost excitement as women dress up in their rompers, jumpsuits, and spring dresses and men straighten their bowties and throw on a sports coat for two days of racing and Derby parties. The day before the Derby is the Kentucky Oaks, where high schools in Louisville get the day off so students and teachers alike can head to the races and enjoy a day full of betting and anticipation. The Derby always takes place on the first Saturday of May each year, inviting a crowded of about 155,000 people. People will travel across the country just to attend a fun-filled event.
Those who attend Oaks or the Derby have the choice to watch from a seat, suite, or box within the confines of Churchill Downs, or alternatively buy a general admission ticket that allows Derby goers to watch from the infield. For the past four years, my friends and I have cheered the horses on from the infield, and I cannot wait to continue on the tradition.
The Derby and Oaks, however, do not start off as plain old races.
One of the most moving moments of the whole weekend is the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home." The band will play as every person in the crowd sings along together before the races commence. For just a few minutes, everything is still, and we are all one. That, I believe, is the most important aspect of the Kentucky Derby. People near and far will come together, sing the same words, and celebrate. We celebrate victory as well as defeat, we celebrate the incredible tradition, and we celebrate our lives.
The Kentucky Derby is truly an experience that cannot be given anywhere other than Louisville, Kentucky. The energy that surrounds Churchill Downs is unreal as horses gallop around the track, and less than a month from now, we will experience that same feeling.