The Thirsty Zebra

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Remembering Our Trip to The Kentucky Derby

By Susan Acree

Charismatic-1999 Kentucky Derby Winner

Back 1999, my husband made it possible for us to attend the Kentucky Derby. Of course, this was one of the top things on my Bucket List.

That first Saturday in May of 1999 was indeed memorable. One of our funniest memories is that between the two of us we had made wagers including 10 different horses and combinations of win, place, show finishers.

Charismatic was the eventual winner in an exciting running of the 125th Kentucky Derby. After the cheering subsided and we started sorting through our tickets to find some kind of winner, we realized that neither of us had put Charismatic on any of our tickets! Bummer….

Although the race itself was amazing, the thing I recall most was more just the atmosphere. It was the “experience” that we remember.

Watching these majestic horses parade in the paddock, seeing the jockeys get their last minute instructions from intense trainers and one last “Good Luck” from excited owners was so fun. Shopping all of the artisans, I brought home a few beautiful pieces of art. If I had remembered to pack my money tree, there was one painting, a 36″ x 60″ action shot of John Henry racing, that was awe inspiring, that I would have loved to have, but alas, the price tag was a bit out of reach.

Churchill Downs was a bit smaller than it looks on TV. A little rundown, and in a part of Louisville that, well, let’s just say the attendees in the luxury boxes, sipping mint juleps and wearing all sorts of fancy hats, probably don’t reside in the Churchill Downs neighborhood.

We did however, meet some wonderful people that were as friendly as could be and allowed us to park in their yard… for a small fee, of course

Oh, and those $12 mint juleps were just plain nasty tasting!

As we made our way to Churchill Downs, the excitement was building. By the time we got to the entry gates, we were pretty anxious to get in. Security was really tight and every bag was thoroughly searched.

People were very creative in trying to get alcohol past the security people. Using water and soda bottles filled with their cocktails of choice seemed like a good idea, but very few made it past the security checks. There were two huge dumpsters and they were filling up fast.

When we first arrived, the infield was almost empty. We thought “Cool, we should be able to see everything from our spot on the first turn.”

There were giant viewing screens around the track. At first, when the crowd was small, we didn’t think we would need to watch on the big screens, but by Derby time, we were in a sea of humanity and were thankful that we could see at least some of the race on the screens.

The track was actually made up of two ovals. The main dirt track and a turf track right inside that. So, from our place in the infield, we looked across the turf track to the main track as the horses raced by.

We got there before any of the races started that day, we wanted to experience more than just the one race.

After we set up our infield spot, we ventured out to take in the entire spectacle. We made our way to the paddock by way of an underground tunnel that runs under the track from the infield.

Since we only had infield tickets, we were unable to even get in the grandstand. There were guards at every entrance and it was fun to watch the elite head up to the luxury boxes. We saw some celebrities and politicians, nobody too exciting.

Attending the Kentucky Derby back in 1999 was a thrilling and memorable experience that I will always treasure.

And now, I am off on another adventure where I am sure to make many more fun and lasting memories.

I am so looking forward to my trip this week to the Road To The Horse Competition in Lexington at The Kentucky Horse Park.

I will post updates daily from the event, so stay tuned!

Naturally,

Susan

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