There occurs on the first Saturday every May an event that is so legendary that people travel from all over the world to experience it.
Not “The Kentucky Derby” not “The Derby” it requires only one word: Derby.
This year, I was lucky enough–blessed enough–to become part of that tradition.
We awoke early, despite having stayed up late rocking out to Third Eye Blind during the Derby Eve concert. We hailed an Uber–getting to the Churchill Downs from our hotel only cost us around $11. However, the Uber dropped us off at the wrong gate.
For those thinking about going to the Derby, please note: General Admission can only get in at Gate 3. Don’t let your ride drop you off anywhere else.
So we walked around the outside of the Downs until we fell in line and waited to be let in the gates. Now, online they sounded so strict about what was or was not allowed inside.
No alcohol allowed–I saw people carrying entire cases of beer in.
No backpacks–I saw several backpacks, albeit see-through ones. But backpacks nonetheless.
No umbrellas-I never saw a handheld umbrella but I did see a patio umbrella set up.
No bags over 12 inches in any diameter–Let’s just say they weren’t measuring our tote bags.
Of course, we followed all of the rules. We were scared not too. But they aren’t nearly as strict as they made us believe. They didn’t even look into our bags. They just waived us through.
Once inside, we found a great spot right at the second turn and we set up our blankets and chairs. It was so exciting. There were a group of twenty somethings behind us that I ended up befriending throughout the day, a nice old man who was alone in a fold out chair sat to our immediate right and a group of older friends sat to our left. We all became friends by the time the day was over.
Around 9 Bestie and I went to get our obligatory hat photos and grab some mint juleps in commemorative glasses.
It was literally the nastiest drink I’ve ever tasted besides a Manhattan. After a quick Google search I realized it’s because a mint julep is basically just straight bourbon poured over a mint leaf.
I like neither bourbon nor mint.
But I drank it anyway! Then, the rest of the day Bestie and I drank our fill of Michelob Ultra draft and frozen margaritas. In a cruel twist of irony, one of the men who were hanging out in the twenty something group behind us–we’ll just call him DerbyDude–was so generous to ask me to go get a drink with him and then he bought me another mint julep. I put on my happy face and accepted, sipping on it as if I liked it.
In case you’re wondering, it was just as nasty the second time around.
Bestie, Tiger, and I all bet on the races. Tiger bet the Nyquist would show and Bestie and I bet that Nyquist would place. We won $5 and Tiger won $3.80.
I also bet on My Man Sam (for obvious reasons) and for Mohayman because his name was cool. Neither of them placed. I forget the other horse that Tiger bet on, but he didn’t do well either.
It was so much fun. I am having trouble finding the words for how much fun it was. The excitement of 167,000 people all gathering in one place waiting all day was overwhelming. The atmosphere was a mixture of a carnival, an upscale gala, a camping trip, and a college frat party all rolled up into one.
When the time came to watch the actual Derby–the most exciting two minutes in sports-I didn’t even hear the gunshot that signaled the start of the race because everyone was cheering so loudly. Then, during the couple minutes it took for the horses to gallop around the track, it was utter silence. So many people, and it was utter silence. All I could hear was the beating of hooves on hard, packed dirt. And then, an eruption of screams and curses when the horses crossed the finish line.
All in all, if you’re on the fence about going to the Derby-just go. Go to the Derby. You will not regret it. It is a Life List item for a reason. It’s a legendary event for a reason.
I would go back.