A Race For The Record Books

It was a weekend no horse-racing fan could ever forget.

On a hot and humid first Saturday in May, a record-breaking crowd of 165,307 people filled Churchill Downs to witness the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.

The race featured, perhaps, the deepest field in its 138-year history, with many bettors eyeing Michael Matz-trained Union Rags and the nearly white colt, Hansen.

Yet, the morning line favorite, Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister, looked the clear winner for most of the one-and-a-quarter mile race. That is, until,  Mario Gutierrez of Vera Cruz, Mexico – who just one year ago, dreamed of what he thought would be a long-awaited appearance in the Derby – surprised the crowd when he and 15-1 I’ll Have Another took the lead at the final turn and held on to the finish.

Owner Paul Reddam hoisted the trophy high.

Owner Paul Reddam hoisted the trophy high.

Gutierrez became the 42nd jockey to win his first try at the Derby, defeating Bodemeister by 1 ½ lengths aboard the chestnut colt owned by J. Paul Reddam. I’ll Have Another was also the first horse to win from the No. 19 post position and paid $32.60, $13.80 and $9. Bodemeister placed second and returned $6.20 and $5.60, while Dale Romans’ Dullahan took third and paid $7.20 to show.

Wagering from all-sources on the Kentucky Derby race card set a record, totaling $187 million. On-track wagering rose 7.1 percent from $11.5 million to $12.3 million, breaking the previous record of $12.1 million established in 2008.

Though most of the serious horse-racing aficionados had faith in just about every horse but I’ll Have Another, the colt was a popular choice among plenty of others.

Scott Cole from Miami placed his bet on Reddam’s horse for the simple reason: “(I) like to drink beer, and I’ll always have another.”

Picking a horse by its name turned out to be a wise tactic, at least in this instance. The philosophy also rang true in the Kentucky Oaks for those who wagered on 13-1 Believe You Can due to the horse’s uplifting moniker.

On Oaks Day, another record crowd of 112,522 – the second-highest attendance for the Kentucky Oaks – graced Churchill Downs. Just before 5 p.m., Churchill issued an advisory to on-track fans to seek shelter and cleared the track of horses due to the threat of lightning. A brief rainstorm delayed the Oaks by more than 50 minutes.

Rosie Napravnik and Believe You Can in the Winner's Circle for the Kentucky Oaks.

Rosie Napravnik and Believe You Can in the Winner's Circle for the Kentucky Oaks.

But, when the skies finally cleared and the sun peeked through, the wait was soon forgotten for those who waited to see what would be an historic Oaks victory. Aboard Brereton Jones’ Believe You Can, Rosie Napravnik became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks. This was a second Oaks win for Larry Jones and Brereton Jones, whose filly Proud Spell earned the garland of lilies in 2008.

“Yesterday was just great to be my first opportunity to give the Oaks trophy,” said Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, “and to give it to the first female jockey (to win the Oaks) and also to give it to the former lieutenant governor and the former governor, Brereton Jones, who is the owner, and Libby, his wife. And, my son won on the Oaks, so it was a good day yesterday.”

Aside from picking ponies, the Oaks also featured the Longines Kentucky Oaks Fashion Contest. Female track attendees walked the pink carpet in the Aristides Garden for  a chance to win a Longines Saint-Imier watch and an all-expense-paid VIP trip to New York City for Fall Fashion Week.

Stefanie Graf, the wife of fellow tennis legend Andre Agassi, celebrity fashion stylist Jeannie Mai and E! News correspondent Catt Sadler judged the contest. The three selected  Valerie Sexton, of Buffalo, N.Y. as the winner with her pink and teal ensemble.

Style Network’s Jeannie Mai with E! host Catt Sadler and tennis legend Stefanie Graf

Style Network’s Jeannie Mai with E! host Catt Sadler and tennis legend Stefanie Graf

“I think the most important thing about style is it has to have a story and (Sexton) had a very compelling story as to why she got dressed specifically for this event,” Mai said. “Color blocking is amazing. Teal is explosive, it’s so beautiful, and it was very original but very classic and Derby as well.”

Sexton appeared at Oaks thanks to her boyfriend, who won tickets to this year’s race. She originally had no intention of entering the contest until several individuals complemented her clothing and convinced her to enter.

“We didn’t even think about it; we were up in the suites and (people kept saying) you need to go enter,” she said. “I made the hat, and it was like thrown together by his sister and me. I just made everything. I bought the dress, I bought the hat and I added everything else to it.”

From the warm weather to the race horses, the stories of triumph and the flawless fashion, the weekend was a success.

“Kentucky shines on this day and it shines for the world,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. “The eyes of the world are on us and they end up with a great impression because Kentucky really does this well. And because they see us in this way, they get more interested in us and they want to find out more about Kentucky and that benefits us all.”

Photos by AMBER CHALFIN | Contributing Photographer and CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune