is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The 137th Running of the Kentucky Derby - From Inside the Rail

Delightful 9 year old Michael Velazquez confidently
predicted his Dad jockey John Velazquez
would win the race.  
Oh, the sun shines bright...

For any Kentucky Girl worth the mint in her julep, the biggest decision before Derby day is always what to wear, and attention is specially paid to what headgear to wear.  Last week, I mentioned to my friend Ali that I'd like to fashion a lil fascinator for me to wear and before I knew it, she'd made the most gorgeous concoction for me made of feathers and fauna. It was perfect, and I love it, but the weather and work I do at the Derby prevents me from donning such a pretty work of art. Everyone who's seen it adores it, and I have a great event in mind to use it, but that gesture by my friend really got my Derby week off with a creative bang, which I considered a good omen. All I needed was a great pair of jeans and fabulous tee-shirt, some waterproof outerwear and my Derby smile, and I was good to go.
The fascinator
Ali made me has
garnered a lot of
favorable attention.
My bestie Tom Bragg
calls it "the Exciter" ;-)

I plan to wear it to a
fabulous event soon!

Well, and I did go to the Derby, played around most of the day, worked when I was asked, and made it home again with yet another wonderful, one of a kind experience that only happens the first Saturday of May, in my home state, Kentucky.  

It was a record crowd of the gorgeous and the gaudy, the sun came out just in time for My Old Kentucky Home, and I triggered the starting gate camera in time for Z to capture her classic shots of the spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby.

Amy Owens, Kimmy & Lisa Osland
a/k/a Team Z
Departing from Lexington at 8:30 yesterday morning with the rest of Team Z (Amy Owens, Lisa Osland and myself), I indeed did make it to Churchill Downs sometime around 10 a.m., and by noon, was ready for mint julep observances and a lovely catered lunch, after which we had to settle down and get instructions from the Photos by Z crew members we were to support.  Z, as always, was organized and focused (the 137th Derby was not her first rodeo), and knew exactly  what she wanted each one of us to do, and we were happy to do our various tasks to ensure another day of fantastic coverage.  Z knows she can count on us and I think we're sort of comic relief for her on an otherwise franticly paced day.  
This is the room where the Garland of Roses, as well
as the Garland of Lilies & other flowers are kept.  The
nice folks at the Downs let me peek in & take this shot.

As the afternoon of undercard races went by, the rain began to waver, we saw the hats and outfits get more and more outrageous, and I have to say that most people were pretty tasteful in the paddock area where the media center is as well as the grandstands. The day was a little soggy to start, but the sun came out just before My Old Kentucky Home was sung, and we had a wildly wonderful day.  

These festive latecomers turned a lot of heads!

As I walked past the crowd on my way to the starting gate before the Big Race, I had the chance to meet a nice young man, nine year old Michael Velazquez, who cheerily told me that his Daddy was going to win the Derby.  When I reached out to say hello, and he grinned and spit on his palm before shaking my hand.  I just laughed and asked him who his Dad was, and of course, it was John Velazquez, who -- and hour and half later -- indeed won the Derby aboard ANIMAL KINGDOM!  

The story of how Velasquez came to ride ANIMAL KINGDOM is one best described by Dan Fogelberg, as in "It's the chance of a lifetime, and a lifetime of chance; and it's high time you joined in the dance..." in his heartfelt tune, Run For The Roses (which sometimes I think ought to be the State's unofficial theme song).  Velasquez was asked to replace jockey Robert Alvarado, who had suffered a bad fall on Oaks Day (in fact, some folks in the media room weren't even aware of the rider change until well after he won the race). Velasquez had previously been set to ride favorite UNCLE MO until the horse's owners decided Friday morning to pull the colt because his health has not rebounded satisfactorily from a gastrointestinal condition, and thus it was a last minute twist of fate that ultimately paired the winning jockey with the winning horse.
All in all, it was a perfect day, marred only by a celebrity tantrum (cough...he has a show on Food Nation), a less-than-stellar rendition of the National Anthem, and a lil snafu concerning some equipment that was missing in action for a while (but after a bit more searching, we delivered all items back to their appropriate place in the media room). 

Eventually, we forgot about the food brat, waved to nice guy Calvin Borel, met julep lovers of all ages and ilk, sang My Old Kentucky Home and joined over 200,000 others who there to enjoy their version of a great Derby day.  

As for me, as I walked down to the gate and met a lot of smiling Derby-goers along the way, the sun began to shine and I took my place by the crew, tested the remote, and sat back and took some more photos and even a few videos to post.  

To be honest, I didn't see the race because I was concentrated on triggering Jamie's camera to ensure some good out-of-the-gate photos for Z and her crew to post.  In fact, I still haven't watched it in its entirety, I've just been reminiscing about the day and how enjoyable it was.  I know he was a longshot, I know it was another wonderful Derby -- except for the news about ARCHARCHARCH's fracture afterward -- and I know it was  record crowd, but mostly I just know I'm truly grateful for the chance to be with dear friends again, for having the honor of watching Kentucky shine in the eyes of the world, and uber appreciative to be included as a member of Team Z.  There is no way to adequately describe how cool a privilege it is to have access to most everywhere in the Downs, I don't really care to hang out on Millionaires Row or the infield, I'll take the media center and paddock anytime.  And Juleps, of course :)

Found this great hat-wearing fellow among the record crowd
in the grandstands when I was on my way to the gate :)

One of my jobs was assist Jamie,
one of Z's trusted crew members -- I triggered the
remote in the starting gate/

As you'll see in the photos and video clips, I had one of the best Derby days ever, and hope if you haven't ever had the pleasure, that you someday make your way to Churchill on the first Saturday in May, because the experience is like no other, especially for a lambchop like you!

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