The first Saturday in May is usually associated with horse racing, mint juleps, fashion, and the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home”. Not originally from Kentucky, I don’t have memories of derby hats and cakes everywhere, but I do remember family getting together on this special day. I will never forget the memory of names like Spend a Buck and Alysheba, yelled at by my father as everyone rounded the home straight, with Dad ready to go faster and faster. Memories of my mom who made special handwritten betting cards for my friends and me to make us feel part of the action since we were too young to bet. I remember my dad reading the Daily Racing Form at breakfast, lunch, and up to the race, trying to find and bet on the perfect combination of horses.
In my teenage years, my family packed and attended derby parties at nearby racetracks, and that’s how I fell in love with the Kentucky Derby. I didn’t know then, but I had Derby fever. Even hundreds of miles from Louisville, I imagined we were going to Churchill Downs minus Churchill’s famous Twin Spiers. Everywhere you looked, people wore brightly colored outfits and beautiful hats and were drinking a certain mint preparation. The atmosphere and food were spectacular and it was nirvana for a starving teenager.
As I advanced into adulthood, I moved further and further away from Kentucky, but never lost the fever I contracted so long ago. Even when my wife and I moved to Pittsburgh, we attended a derby party hosted by the Meadowlands Racetrack. While the pageant wasn’t there and no one was singing “My Old Kentucky Home” except my wife and me, I was still excited to have a little piece of bluegrass state with me that day. That year, Barbaro finished first. I remember it well because my wife chooses horses by name or color. She won that year because her aunt Barb was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and since Barbaro had Barb in her name, that was her choice. Aunt Barb lived in Florida but never forgot her Kentucky roots. One of her favorite songs was “My Old Kentucky Home” which she would unfasten for everyone’s pleasure.
For people outside of Kentucky, it’s hard to understand the importance of the first Saturday in May if you haven’t had the experience. Although my family grew up outside of Kentucky, we were close enough to cherish the day. I was lucky enough to experience my first personal derby in 2018. We had just returned to Lexington and our dear friends kindly allowed us to participate that day. If you don’t remember, this was the wettest derby in history, but it was also the start of Justify’s run for the Triple Crown. What are the chances of seeing a Triple Crown winner at my first derby?
My father was the biggest racing fan I knew. He died in 2015, but not before witnessing the American pharaoh win the Triple Crown. The first Saturday in May has a special meaning for everyone. It can be an opportunity to hang out with friends, change into fancy clothes and a hat, or drink mint juleps. For me it is the memory of the time I spent with my father and the happiness he enjoyed on that first Saturday in May every year.
Jake Kratzenberg is the Chief Operating Officer
from The Lane Report, Inc. He can be contacted
at the [email protected]