Derby Day

I’m simply not sure if I can recall a derby I’ve attended with more beautiful weather. Cool and partly cloudy with a nice breeze blowing. Auggie and I got up and wished off the rest of the crew dressed in their finery. Mostly because Auggie absolutely loved riding up and down the elevator at the hotel, saying, “DING” when the bell rang at each floor. As has become habit, everybody looked great, but I’d have to say that Bill won this years’ fashion award. The straw boater with the matching bow tie was just fantastic, and Lisa on his arm in a very cool 50’s-esqe dress would have put them right at home in the Turf Club.

We got a bit earlier start on Derby Day and headed out for the Downs at noon. This time we parked for free on the same street we did on Oaks Day. The secret would appear to be to completely ignore everybody that jumps out in front of your car. Since Auggie had fallen asleep on the way over (of course) Beth and I rolled down the window and did some handicapping. It was really cool because Beth hasn’t followed the horses at all this year. So her review of the past performances was completely fresh, something that I found invaluable since I’ve been paying attention since March. It was just a really nice time, actually talking horses with my wife.

Auggie started to stir, so we went to Bob’s. The film crew was out on the front porch, so I introduced Beth and Auggie to Jessica. Auggie then proceeded to steal the show doing all those cute things that kids do when they’re showing off. There was a point when Auggie was just sitting on the front steps watching the buses roll in and out across the street, and the camera just pointed at him for 3 or 4 minutes. I, of course, looked like the best dad in the world wearing my suit with my boy in one arm and a Budweiser in the other hand.

Then it was off to the Downs, we made it there before Three Chimney’s Juvenile, and I proceeded to have my biggest Churchill faux pas of my life. I’m at the window to pound on the eventual 6-1 winner. (Closed against the bias at Keeneland, ran a good time, and was the only one of the Pletcher horses to have his prep over a dry track. God I love the Juvenile.) I’ve set my julep up on top of the betting window, and when I’m done, I reach for it and it shoots out of my hand, flying down into the next betting window on my right, landing in front of the teller. It smashes into bits and falls to the ground. I’m mortified, there’s sticky julep all over the shelf in front of the teller, but thankfully, none on any of the patrons around there. The guy I’ve nearly smashed a glass on asks ME if I’m OK. “Yes, I am, are you? Yes, well good, I’m very very sorry.” I then just turned and walked away as quickly as I could. I didn’t go within 15 windows of that spot for the rest of the day. Though, as I said, I nailed the race, so I probably should have done it every time I was at the windows.

Auggie again wasn’t having any part of staying in one place again. It was a constant blur of motion. Down the betting concourse, up the escalator, down the escalator. Fortunately, after the Juvenile, we ran in to Chris, who reminded me we were due to meet in the paddock. We wandered for a bit before I remembered to look for Bill’s distinctive head gear. Once I did that, I spotted them almost immediately. Again though we were off, and I cashed my tickets, put money across on Quick Tip and back to the seats.

We were starving, and the food lines were pretty oppressive in the facility for very marginal fare. We really didn’t want to go through the tunnel to the infield, so we decided to head out of the track and stop for BBQ outside the downs. It was a good choice as we munched pork-chops, chicken breasts, and a couple of the best tasting hot dogs I’ve had in a long while. Auggie again was sweetness and light, freed of the madness of the crowd.

Lunch done, it was back to Bob’s where there was ping-pong in the backyard. Apparently he got this table down at Oaklawn and hasn’t lost a game on it since he’s owned it. Auggie had probably the best time of his day climbing up and down Bob’s back steps and playing peek-a-boo behind the back door to the house.

After a brief refresher, it was back over to the track, where I proceeded to lose yet more money on Perfect Drift. One year later, and still he takes my money. I finally get a chance to write up my bets for the Derby and take Auggie with me down to the windows to bet. I’d like for you to tell me how, 45 minutes before the Kentucky Derby, I’m able to walk right up to a window and place my derby bets with no waiting, and on the main level 50 feet from the paddock. There’s no chance in hell the derby had as many people there as they say it did.

When I laid my tri bet with Empire Maker keyed in second, that’s when Auggie started squirming. I used Funny Cide in third, but obviously he was trying to tell me to replace Ten Most Wanted with Funny Cide. Gotta remember to listen to the boy.

My Old Kentucky Home again made me bawl like a baby. Hell, I’m tearing up just thinking about it now. Now that it is our Kentucky home far away, it pounds me harder than ever. I fell in love to that song, got engaged to that song, changed my life to that song. It’s a powerful moment, even if you’re in the back row of the 200 level with it’s bunker like atmosphere where your view of the track is about 1 foot high between the roof and the heads of the people in front of you.

Then there was the Derby. What really can be said. The three fastest horses on Beyers and the Sheets ran in the top 3. Bailey blew the race with an arrogant ride and Frankel and Juddmonte blew the race with an arrogant post position choice. Force this horse inside, and you force Bailey to ride a tactical race. Oh, and how about that right turn that Peace Rules took out of the gate. He was in the 6 path the first time under the wire. I really do love the winner. It was an honest time out of an honest horse who easily showed the most grit and heart of any of the horses on the trail this year.

After the race, Beth went off to cash her ticket on Peace Rules, and by the time she had returned, Auggie had passed out hard. I don’t think it was all the juleps (kidding). Just a boy who was completely exhausted and felt the post-race let down of 140,000 people wash over him. He was conked. So we ducked up to the 300 level above us where the rest of the crew enjoyed this year’s races. We watched the race after the derby, and of course Marc hit it. It was then time for us to go. I walked out of the Downs and over to Bob’s house completely sober for the first time ever at the Derby.

We dallied for a few minutes, but then headed over to QDoba for some burritos to take back to the hotel for dinner. We were pretty fried. Beth and I figured we’d walked at least a couple of miles, and most of that time, carrying our hefty 27 pound baby boy. Beth had originally been on point for the post-Derby show, but decided that I should go out because she just couldn’t make it.

So I pull up to the Seelbach about 9:45 rocking out to Marc and Dan’s Post-Derby mix. Come in to find that though they’ve ordered their food over an hour ago, the crew there still hasn’t eaten. I get an Elmer T Lee at the bar and sit down to chat. The food finally arrives, so I head up to the upstairs bar to commune with the spirit of Max the bartender with a draught of his hand picked Buffalo Trace barrel.

Marc comes up and joins me with a George T. Stagg. After contemplating the wonderful bourbon for a few minutes, it was decided that it was time to leave. We took off with me behind the wheel of the silver tank. With a V8 under my foot, we make it to Headliners in no time at all, getting pumped to the Mix. We walk into Headliners just as Trans Am takes the stage. I walk to the bar and order 6 shots of Wild Turkey and 6 Budweisers. We need to get this thing started, right? To my shock, everybody makes a valiant attempt to choke down the shots, even Shannon and Kristin. A remarkable performance by everyone present! (Sorry Horsethrottle, I didn’t know your stomach was in the corner doing backflips.)

Just then as we stand by the elevated bar, Trans Am starts rocking the house. It was Derby Night and they were fantastic. They fueled the room with the synthesizer backed rock. Even assaulting with a dual bass attack at times. Halfway through, we found ourselves down on the floor, having a great time.

Then it was time for VHS or Beta, a band that I’d heard one song by over a year ago. I had no real idea what to expect, but they rocked my world. It was live techno/dance music, and once they started, they didn’t stop. We danced, and danced and danced. I haven’t danced like that since I was a sophomore in college at Shattered. By the end of the show, I’m down in front of the stage egging them on as they keep the pressure on. The crowd’s going nuts. It was blistering, just the thing you need to celebrate Derby night. They took one encore break for about 30 seconds and came back and ripped the place apart.

Well, I’m right against the stage in the very middle, have been going nuts right in front of them for the last 30 minutes of their set, and when they finish up the last chord, the guitarist in the middle hands the mike to me. Christ, that was about the last thing I’d expected. So really without thinking, I just said. “Happy Derby Ladies and Gentlemen”¦ and congratulations to the Kentucky Derby Winner, Funny Cide.” I figured that pretty much covered it, and threw mike down on the stage and walked out of the club.

Outside, I realized I could barely hear and was totally soaked with sweat. And oh yeah, I was sober again. Back in the beast and over to Freddie’s we went. Once we walked in, I remembered what drew us there in the first place. It’s the place where drunks go to die. The vibe was very dark and downtrodden. We got drinks, and I chugged a Coke to try and rehydrate myself. Coming up to the table, I saw a very whipped group. Just then, my phone rang, and it was Beth asking me to come back to the hotel because Auggie had woken back up. No problem, I think that’s where I’d like to be.


For the next three days, my calves, neck, and abs were brutally sore from the VHS or Beta workout. We crawled home through a torrential downpour but were otherwise unscathed. It was a great trip to the Derby, and we had a fine time, but chances are it will be our last with Auggie for a while. While we think it would be neat for us to bring him every year, it’s really not about him. We both felt like we weren’t able to really spend our time with all the folks we only get to see once a year. Also, we won’t have to go looking through the phone book for somebody to go out with, we’ll have each other.

Happy Derby Ladies and Gentlemen”¦ And congratulations to the Kentucky Derby Winner, Funny Cide!