Friday, May 4, 2012

For my old Kentucky home, far away

Here I am on the eve of another Kentucky Derby.

There is anticipation and angst. There is the knowledge that tradition will be renewed and history will be made tomorrow. There is the thrill of the "Greatest Two Minutes in Sports" and a little voice in me wondering why I care so much anymore.

This race is, in a large way, the story of my family, even though none of us are from Kentucky and only an aunt of mine lives there. But my brothers and I know the legends of the race--who won in 1973, who lost in 1953, who didn't start in 1920. Each of us remember where we were for the Derbys of our lifetimes and who we bet on.

The first Derby I remember seeing on TV was the 1972 Derby, won by Riva Ridge (although I recall seeing the Racing Form for the Derby the year before). Then Secretariat won the Triple Crown and I was hooked.

Racing was a big part of my life when I was growing up. I learned as much as I could about the sport and its history, and it was often talked about in my house. My family thoroughly analyzed the lead-up and aftermath of every major race (as well as the fifth at Beulah Park), and I assumed that every other household did the same.

It came as a bit of culture shock when I went to college and found that I was the only person there who knew or cared about racing. (What--you mean everybody doesn't know what a trifecta is?) My college did have an equine science program, but it didn't seem to have much to do with racing. It was frustrating trying to watch major races on TV and try to be engaged in an interview with a jockey in an upcoming race while loud conversations took place in the room, most of which centered around the inability to get laid.

It was at that time, though, that I went to the Derby in person three times. I will never forget my first look at Churchill Downs' Twin Spires as I approached it from the clubhouse parking lot. Television does not do justice to the size of the grandstand, which emerges as you approach it--horse racing's greatest monument. Even though I didn't see a horse all day, there was nothing like the experience of being part of racing history.

I had the opportunity to work for Daily Racing Form for several years, and it was a grand ride. Canterbury Park, Hoosier Park, Delta was full of exciting racing and some great memories.

Economic realities set in, and my job at the Racing Form is long gone. Tomorrow is one of two days of the year (the other being the Breeders' Cup) that I visit the OTB each year. But racing will never leave me.

I will know where each member of my family will be at 6 p.m. tomorrow. We will all be somewhere--an OTB, a race book, or in front of a TV--hearing the University of Louisville Marching Band play "My Old Kentucky Home" and renewing one of the grandest traditions in sports.

In the words of horse racing commentator Harvey Pack, may the horse be with you.

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