This year I got to experience my first Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. This was a wedding gift from Chrissy’s parents, and what a wonderful experience it was. The Derby is famous for its Southern fashion and the dazzling large hats for the ladies. I wanted to have some fun with it, so with Melih and Greg’s help I got a killer outfit together. Chrissy found the perfect dress and spruced up a hat with feathers. Turned out great:
Super fly, with the entire attire for just costing ~$120.
Churchill Downs, the racetrack located just south of downtown Louisville, is enormous. There’s the towering grand stand on one edge, bleachers on the other, and the infamous infield which has the feel of a bring-your-own-picnic music festival but where everyone is wearing Vineyard Vines. Our seats were in the grandstand, but the lowest level — literally eight feet from the track itself. My friend and old Apple colleague Nevin was also in town for the Derby and amazingly enough, I discovered was in our very section. So cool and random to reconnect with him two thousand miles from California.
Here’s the view of the track and the grandstand. The famous “fastest two minutes in sports” race of the Kentucky Derby itself is actually just one of the horse races run that day. There are a total of 14 races, starting at 10:30am and spaced out every 30-45minutes. The Derby is the 12th race of the day.
We got there right around eleven. The weather — Kentucky can be notoriously fickle in May — was cooperating. There was a two minute shower in the afternoon, but thanks to seeing the radar on our smartphones, we ducked inside the concourse and avoided getting wet.
Cyril and Chrissy taught me how to bet at the windows. The minimum bet is only $2. There’s a whole smorgasbord of bets you can make that involve picking horses to win (1st), show (2nd), or place (3rd). For example, you can place a $2 bet on horse #10 to win. If you bet on picking the 1st and 2nd place horses, it’s called an exacta. So $2 on Horse #10 to win and Horse #7 to show. You can hedge that bet by “boxing” it, to make it a box exacta. That makes either combination win — horse #10 and horse #7 finish in the top 2 spots, no matter the order. Picking the top 3 horses is a trifecta, and you can box that bet too.
So there we went, spending the day betting on the races, drinking mint juleps, and took a gander around the infield. I was only making 1 bet per race, and was losing on every single bet. Cyril, Chrissy, and their mom were all scoring wins.
The excitement for the Derby is palpable. People might have been trickling in all day, but by 6pm the entire grandstand is packed. The Derby is also famous for running 20 horses in the field. Most races of the day only involve 8 to 12 horses.
This year the big story was Nyquist (#13), who came into the race undefeated in eight starts, but still had doubters. By the start of the race, he was still the clear favorite at 2-1 odds. A lady in line whispered an inside scoop on a horse named Exaggerator (#11). When it came time to bet, I put $5 for Exaggerator to win, and $4 down on a box exacta for Nyquist and Exaggerator. The favorite has won the last three times at the Derby, so not making a bet at all on Nyquist would have been foolish.
The gates flew open and the horses stormed past us at the start, then make the first curve and enter the long stretch on the other side of the track. Here I pick them up as they make the final turn into the home stretch:
Nyquist won! Followed by Exaggerator who burst ahead of Gun Runner in the final stretch. Wait a minute — that means my box exacta bet won!! I showed Chrissy my ticket and her eyes went wide. She snatched that ticket out of my hand “for safe keeping”, and when she cashed it in, came back with $76. That $4 bet turned into $76! With my only win of the day, I managed to be the only part of the group to finish in the black.
Amazing people watching, great weather, fun entertainment, a snazzy outfit, and even made some money too. Not bad for my first Derby!