While writing this letter, my mind is filled with thoughts and memories of Derby that take me back to when I was a youngster visiting my cousins. We could hang out in their neighborhood without much concern that the streets could be dangerous, which they weren’t in those days. On one particular visit to my cousin’s house, a group of cousins and siblings, probably eight or so, decided to take a walk down the street to the neighboring special place better known as Churchill Downs. Way back when it was safe for us to roam this particular neighborhood that bordered the gates of the threshold of Churchill Downs, being adventurous and curious youngsters, we managed to cross through the gates and get onto the racetrack and run around as if we were the thoroughbreds running in the Kentucky Derby.
The entirety of Churchill Downs was much smaller, and hard to believe in today’s world that a band of innocent youngsters had such access. What a fantastic and authentic memory. I think about the possibility of doing that in today’s world. I realize it is possible but probably not the best decision to make, given that Churchill Downs has grown exponentially since that time.
I also remember the original Turf Club with its dark wood paneling and oil paintings of the winning jockeys on display to honor their legacy. There was a small check-in desk with a very proper-looking woman making sure everyone that entered the Turf Club doors was a member or soon to be and that they were adequately dressed according to the dress code. There were banquettes covered in deep forest green button-tufted leather. The bar could probably seat 10 people or less. I remember the first time I wandered through those doors. I knew someday I would be a member.
The first Derby I experienced there was thrilling. We had a table on the turf terrace, and as the day went on, celebrity after celebrity began to arrive and take their seats. One year John Goodman sang My Old Kentucky Home for the surrounding crowd; you can imagine the applause when he finished. Another year Kid Rock sat at the table next to us in his chartreuse green suit, nearby the Backstreet Boys gathered looking like a million bucks in their tailor-made suits and perfectly coiffed haircuts. Dixie Carter, James Earl Jones, Anna Nicole Smith, P Diddy, Gene Simmons, lead singer of the band Kiss, Geraldo Rivera, Larry King, country singer Travis Tritt and so many more would be seated near our table on the outdoor turf terrace. Photographers would swarm around them clambering to snap that one particular photo. For a few moments, it made us feel famous too.
May your experience of the 148th Kentucky Derby create memories of a lifetime. I’m certainly looking forward to being back at the track and, once again, crossing fingers for luck, placing my winning bets.
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