LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - If you grow up in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is in your blood.
Whether it be drawing pictures of Kentucky Derby Festival events in 6th grade or watching from the grandstand as Swale romped down the stretch at Churchill Downs, these events are seared in my memory.
My earliest memory is of my dad booking bets for my sister, Kristen, and I in 1978. I liked Affirmed. She liked Alydar. I won every Triple Crown race.
Kristen learned a valuable lesson in 1980. She liked the filly Genuine Risk. My dad told her that only one filly had ever won the roses, and none since 1915. She changed her mind. When Genuine Risk won the Derby, she wanted her money, but he told her that the lesson was not to let someone talk you out of your Derby horse.
As a kid, my mom and stepfather had a Kentucky Derby Eve party every year. Around 300 guests, complete with a giant tent in the backyard. A few of those out-of-town guests continue to come to this day, including the Mladicks from Virginia Beach and the Hogans from Milwaukee. They wouldn't dare miss it. Those couples are closing in on 40 straight years at the Kentucky Derby.
In 1986, my grandmother gave me money to bet on Bill Shoemaker and Ferdinand. As I was walking through the clubhouse, they were replaying some Derby prep races and I watched as Snow Chief ran away from Ferdinand in the Santa Anita Derby. I changed her bet. Ferdinand won and paid $35.40. She didn't make me pay up, and that lesson was learned.
I have been fortunate enough to cover every Kentucky Derby since 1996. From watching on the roof as Grindstone held off Cavonier to my most recent spot in the first turn, they are all memorable. We are in place around 4:30 p.m. To me it is the perfect seat, I can plug into our feed from NBC, hear Tom Hammond and the crew, and still take in everything going on around us. Plus, when the winner crosses the finish line, he or she has to run right past us, and then gallop by again on the way to the Winner's Circle.
I still get teary-eyed and take a deep breath every time the horses come through the tunnel onto the track and "My Old Kentucky Home" blares over the speakers. The crowd joins in and that moment never disappoints.
Immediately after the race, the next race begins, the race to gather as much information as I can on the connections of the winner. Connie Leonard and I are already in place and take over as soon as NBC concludes its coverage with the Kentucky Derby post-race show. The most enjoyable part is the replay with our crews from all over the track chiming in. We have reporters chasing downs winners and losers in the crowd.
The stories will reveal themselves over the course of the next few weeks. From owners, trainers and jockeys who have spent a lifetime in the game, all in anticipation and preparation for the greatest two minutes in sports.
You can't buy it, no one deserves it and it might happen when you least expect it, but someone will experience it on May 7 and we will be there to document it.
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