LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Each day I'll be updating this post with thoughts and experiences from Churchill Downs on Derby week.
You can also click here to see an updated slideshow of my favorite pictures from each day at the track; there's so many beautiful sights to document.
Thursday, May 3 - Happy Thurby! Today felt a little more like a race day, makes sense, right? There were people drinking out of red solo cups at 6:30 a.m. and an army of black tie-clad wait staff, getting their instructions outside of the front gate.
The story of today was Mendelssohn. He's been in quarantine since arriving at Churchill on Monday, so this was our first look at him. A lot of the time I'm back here, I think about what's going on in the horses' minds. It doesn't take long around them to realize, each horse has a different personality just like us. Mendelssohn definitely knows he's a star. He sauntered proudly past the sea of cameras onto the track.
We weren't sure which way he'd come off the track, so once we realized he'd already exited, media scattered trying to find him on the way back to his barn. A group of us caught him as he turned around the back corner towards his barn, and as he made the turned and looked right at the press pool, a truly media savvy star athlete.
Tomorrow is Oaks Day, that kind of snuck up on me. I work with some of the most talented, dedicated professionals in the business. What we accomplish in a Derby week is truly remarkable. It's really bittersweet for me to be in the middle of it, and know it's going to be over so soon. I can't wait to see my coworkers shine in the coming days, I just hope it doesn't go by as quickly as these past four days!
Wednesday, May 2 - I don't actually park on the grounds, I park across the street from a gate and walk in, which affords me a wonderful start to my shift. Each day I get to begin my work day with the serene walk through the barns to our set. It's dark and quiet, little movement disrupts the silence, horses being bathed or walked around the barn. It smells like Churchill should, and the birds make music all the .. morning. I try to take a slightly different walk each morning, to soak up as much of the grounds as I can.
This week, each sunrise has outdone the last; today's cotton candy sky was no exception. Pictures don't do it justice, but I'm perfectly fine with that. Some things shouldn't get to exist on every screen, but exclusively in our memories.
Did I mention the crowds increasing each day? Today when I got to our set, the backside was already as full as peak time yesterday. Tomorrow will undoubtedly be even more so. But it's good, this is such a wonderful experience, everyone should get to be a part of it. My favorite part is watching the kids become fans of horse racing. Kids on parents shoulders or up against the fence behind the rail, watching the horses go by. These memories will hopefully one day be the genesis of their love of the sport, and this legacy will continue.
I stopped by Wagner's Pharmacy on my way out today, part of mine and so many other people's Derby traditions. Check out the Wagner's story here on Derby City Weekend.
Tuesday, May 1 - This week is heating up, both in temperature and competition. Yesterday's brisk morning sent many to the track in winter coats on Tuesday morning, but as the day went on those coats were traded for sunglasses. The crowd on the backside grows each day as it always has. The faces become more numerous and the names become more recognizable.
Today Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin made his way around the backside of the track. Later he signed House Bill 529, giving a tax incentive to hosting the Breeder's Cup at either Churchill Downs or Keeneland. Representatives from both racetracks were on hand, as were legislators and horse racing representatives. While Bevin was talking, a couple of people walked behind the media pool and made non-favorable noises at the governor. This interaction was a reminder that outside of Churchill Downs, things in Louisville aren't as magical right now.
Bob Baffert and his Derby favorite Justify drew the biggest crowd on Tuesday, with photographers and cameras three and four rows deep at the barn.
Monday, April 30 - Monday Morning means it's officially Derby Week! There's an excited buzz around the backside of Churchill Downs as everyone prepares for the end of the week. This is many people's first day of the Derby season on the backside of the track, including mine. That first morning always reminds me how wonderful this time and place is.
Several horses hit the track Monday morning, including Chad Brown's Good Magic and Todd Pletcher's fearsome foursome of Derby contenders, Magnum Moon, Audible, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso. Pletchers four horses being bathed all in a row drew virtually every camera and iPhone at the track on Monday morning. Dale Romans told me his filly, Coach Rocks, will win the Oaks.
Our producer, Liz, was taken with the barn cats that roam around the backside.
I ran into farrier Todd Boston on my way out of the track and wound up spending some time getting to know him. My conversation with him was just one example of the depth and breadth of storylines that surround Churchill Downs during Derby.