I hope I can collect all my thoughts about the last two days and get to it all but I may end up having to go back and tell some of the details later.
Friday at the Kentucky Oaks
The day was sunny, warm and we were in need of sunscreen very early on. It was so exciting to be at Churchill Downs and show my brother-in-law, Mike and his friend Dean, around the place as they experienced their first Oaks/Derby weekend at Churchill Downs. Both are long time race fans/friends and have dreamed of going to the Derby. This year the opportunity came up for them to go and they wanted the “Parrett Experience” so we made a plan to do all the traditional things.
Most folks have heard of the Kentucky Derby but if you’re not from the local Louisville area, you may not know that this event actually spans out over several weeks of celebrations & events ending with the two days of racing. The Derby, always on the first Saturday in May, is for 3 year olds who have earned enough winnings to contend for a place in this race which, although perhaps not the richest purse (although it’s very big at Two Million!) it is certainly the most famous and steeps with tradition.
The Kentucky Oaks is also for 3 year olds but is limited to fillies. These horses go through a similar process to gain entry into the race but the fillies have the option to run either the Oaks or the Derby. The boys can only enter the Derby! Since the Oaks is run on Friday before the Derby, the locals say “Ladies First!” The past two years the oaks have partnered with the Susan G. Komen Foundation with a promotion they call Horses for Hope to support Breast Cancer awareness. Everything around Churchill Downs is decorated in Pink…lots of pink ribbon; the outriders wear special pink jackets and saddle blankets. I noted even some of the horses in the race were sporting pink bridles. The attendees are encouraged to wear pink in support the cause. Les & I did our best to show how much it means to us.
Just before the Oaks race there was a Survivors Parade where 136 breast cancer survivors took to the track. It was emotional yet inspiring and had me in tears. Women & Men of all ages came to walk. I can’t wait to post the photos as it was truly a pink day! We must know how much I love Pink by now!
As for wining…. not so much. In fact, this is probably the first race day that I have not cashed in at least one winning ticket. We had a great time though. It was really fun to see it through the eyes of our newbie’s, Mike & Dean. They both happen to be friends from the track and take this whole horse and betting thing quite serious. They have homework every night before the race and check all kinds of stats. Mike likes the math and stats. He, Les and Dean pooled their money on some of the bets. I have to say, they paid off pretty well.
…but for me, it’s always been about the horses. I started going because it was a way for me to get to see them in action. It’s what drawn me back time and time again as an adult. I was excited to see 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachael Alexandra. I staked out a place along side the paddock area so that I could get a few photos and I managed to get a few of her and of her jockey, Calvin Borel. She’s truly a beautiful horse and I hope my photos turn out well. She came in second in her race, by the way.
One of the very cool things about the day was Thursday night when Les purchased the racing forum he all bought a copy of the Oaks Program and on the cover was a lovely image of a woman in a pink dress with Stargazer Lilies (the official flower of the Oaks). Upon seeing the cover I said “Les, I think this is a Linda Le Kinff”, an artist we like and have a few pieces of her work already, but he disagreed with me until I opened the program to see who the artist was and I was right! It WAS a “Le Kinff” and she had been chosen to be the official artist of Kentucky Derby 136. The write up in the program also said that she was going to be signing posters between 12 & 1pm and I intended to meet her there. We purchased a Derby poster and she signed it. She speaks French but her translator told her that we were fans and already owned her work. She was full of smiles and graciously took a photo with us.
Being out in the heat wore me out and no amount of water was going to bring me back to life but we did manage to stay through the Oaks and then decided to head out. We took the guys to Kroger’s to see the Rose Blanket that is given to the winning horse being made and then we headed off to Claudia Sander’s Dinner House (as in Mrs. Colonel Sanders of KFC fame) …some reading this will know that this is an Oaks tradition for us. But it’s fun for us to share these experiences Derby newbies. So far it’s not gotten old for us yet.
Talk Derby To Me!
Derby Day was very different from Oaks day for us. #1, the weather was completely crazy. Friday had been warm, clear and so enjoyable, if not a little on the hot side…but if someone told me I’d woken up in a different place the next day, I might have tended to believe them. It was raining and this makes for a very different experience. Rain makes it nearly impossible to be out in the bleachers without some kind of rain gear (yes, we finally had to use a set of poncho’s!) I had the forethought to grab one of the dry cleaning bags off one of Les’ shirts so that I would have a way to protect the hat if it started raining…and rain it did!!
We did go visit our seats for the first race but when it started pouring we camped out at a pole next to a trash can near the paddock area where we could watch the stats board and video feed on the jumbo screen. While the trash can might not seem appealing, I can say that the guys were very happy to have it to do all their planning and calculating on. This left me some time to just do whatever it was that I felt like doing at the moment. I spent some of that time planning and calculating my own bets.
About 5 years ago Les taught me some ways to place exotic bets and that year I actually did very well that year. In fact, I hit back-to-back Pick 3 bets (where you pick the winner of three races in a row) rolling over the same numbers to the next bet so that when they each came in they made the next bet “On” to win as well. I did this several times and had a few misses but the “hits” I got paid pretty well and that last Pick 3 was also the first 3 horses in a Pick 4 that ended in the Derby. You have to plan WAY ahead so there are no last minute changes…once it’s in, it’s done! So I had picked Bellamy Road, the favorite that year. The most notable entry, however, was a long shot in one of the previous races that I picked solely on its name “My Trusty Cat” in honor of my beloved cat, Lola.
When My Trusty Cat won it’s race, that made those Pick 3 & 4 bets significantly more valuable so by the time the Derby race was up, the payoff would be well over $20,000 on $2 bet! As the horses came around that last turn, Bellamy Road was in the lead for a moment and I nearly had heart failure. In fact I had to sit and could not watch the end of the race. Giacomo ended up winning and I could kick myself because I liked that name days before the race but chickened out and bet the favorite. Had I picked Giacomo, my win would have been over $160k…. now THAT would have been unbelievable but still, my back to back Pick 3’s allowed me to go over and get paid out at the IRS window!!!
So this year I started out in race #1 with my usual bets and started those Pick 3s, which meant I had to be several races ahead of myself so I could pick my winners. I never got to cash any of those early tickets in even though I got some of the winner’s right, You have to get ALL 3 of them right to win anything. There’s also a Pick 6 at some point and that made me go out and just grab names and some instant impressions and I picked 6 horses I thought had a chance…and strangely some did actually win but all 6 have to win on that bet to get a payout. I decided to trust my gut and kept the same lineup of picks rolling over those Pick 3 bets and started a whole new card on the 9th race which would have me picking the winner of the 10 and 11th faces…the 11th being the actual Kentucky Derby.
In the 9th race was a horse from Washington, Atta Boy Roy. We’ve seen him run several times at Emerald Downs, including his 7-furlong track record breaking race at the end of last season. My farrier, John, told me that he would be racing in the Churchill Downs Handicap so we got excited about being there when one of our local boys running.
As the race approached, I placed my bet and headed down to the paddock to try to get some photos. I was getting the camera set up to be able to take quick shots (I’m loving ‘sports’ mode, btw) and there was a whole group of folks in yellow rain ponchos standing at the rail. I was trying to aim between them. At one point, one of the women in the group turned around and I saw her startled face in the viewfinder. She apologized for being in the way and I told her she wasn’t that I was just getting ready for a shot. She asked which horse I was wanting to photograph and I told her that it #9 from my home of Washington State. A moment later they asked if I’d like to come down in front of them to get my shots and I jumped at the chance to be right on the rail. I promised I would leave as soon as my horse left because I understood they were putting in their time to be on the rail when the Derby Horses came in a few hours later.
They asked me again who I was looking for and I told them “Atta Boy Roy” and they all let out a squeal as he had caught their eye and they’d all placed bets on him. They got so excited to be part of this special moment. When Roy finally entered the paddock they and several others standing around us who’d overheard the story, all yelled “ATTA BOY ROY” and “You GO, Atta Boy Roy!” I swear…he looked at us and got excited. Every time he came around we yelled it again. I have to wonder if he didn’t feel the excitement he was creating. I really hope he did and took that with him to the track.
When the jockeys entered the paddock area, my new lady friends got me set up to take photos of Roy’s jockey…to my happiness, Calvin Borel…yes, Kentucky Derby Winner (2 times over at that point in the day), and rider of Rachael Alexandra & Mine That Bird from last years Oaks/Derby!! THAT Calvin Borel. It turns out that the only Jockey I took photos of this year was Calvin…he was on all the horses I was mostly interested in! I got some great shots of him too!
Calvin mounted and they left the paddock area. I thanked my yellow lady friends & raced to my seat in section 125, which is quite a swim upstream when everyone is staying under cover because of the rain. I made it just in time to watch the race go off but when they came around and passed our area, I raised my camera to shoot only to realize I’d failed to turn it on! ARGH!! I quickly turned it on and turned around to watch it on the big screen behind us and got a couple of shots as ATTA BOY ROY won the Churchill Downs Handicap!!!! What an exciting moment for me. I can’t even imagine the amazing cheering that must have been going on over at Camp Atta Boy Roy!!! What a tremendous victory for all of them and that beautiful horse!
I joined the boys back at the paddock trashcan and they were whoopin’ & Hollarin’ when I got there. The new phrase of the day (and well into the night!) was Atta BOY Roy!!!! We were all so proud of our “Home Boy Roy!” and for me…it was the first winner in my Pick 3 card.
The next race was the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and my pick from earlier in the day was General Quarters, who I remembered from last years Derby. I looked at the basic stats and it was between him and Court Vision but in the end I followed my hunch and put him in my Pick 3. When he came in and I realized I once again had an “ON” ticket for the Derby race I had to wonder if my heart could take the pressure. An added bonus is that I put both General Quarters & Court Vision in an exacta box and had held on to that ticket until after the Derby. I didn’t want to seem greedy and hoped it would just make for a bigger cash out should I win on the Derby too.
I had been going back and forth between horses and had really taken a liking to Conveyance. When Devil May Care was added to the lineup, I had to give the filly my consideration but it was really something on TV the morning of the race, someone mentioned that Super Saver had won in the mud before and at some point after we got to the track I placed my allegiance (quietly) to #4, Super Saver. I didn’t really even tell the guys who I had until I got to tell them the happy news that two of the three horses on my Pick 3 had come in already and that I was ON for #4. Of course the guys had all these pools and wagers going…I just had my little $1 pick 3 plus $5 to win on him…just to show that I had faith in him.
When they came around the last turn, I could hear Mike behind me saying “here comes your number 4!!”, “There’s your 4!!!!!!”, “There’s your 4!!!!!!” , “THERE’S YOUR FOUR!!!!!!!!!” All I could do was turn around and watch it, I couldn’t respond but boy was I screaming at that point!!! Even after he crossed the finish line I had to turn around and look with question…as if I had to make sure they were still right and that Super Savor had actually won the Derby! … and he DID!!!!!!!! I WON a Pick 3 in the Derby…and to top it off…the #1 horse on the card was our Home Boy, Atta Boy Roy!! That was THE best race I’ve ever watched in terms of excitement for me…What an incredible moment (and pay off too!!). That was TOPS in my book for Derby experiences…even better than thinking for a split second I’d won over $20k…I didn’t win that much this time but it was by far the best overall experience.
I treated the boys to dinner and there were several rounds of Atta BOY Roy that night! I think the guys had a great first Derby!
At one point Mike got me aside and asked me how I came up with that combination. I confessed that there was little more than hunches going on there. That either frustrated him or made him laugh. He spends hours and hours pouring over stats and reports and I call him the Rain Man of racing because he seems to retain racing information details and can spot how a jockey is shaking the reins a certain way to make the horse go. He BREATHES this stuff!!!! For me to win a bet like that, I know he wants to make sense of it or figure it out scientifically but there is no real reason….just Luck, I guess!!
I’ll take it!!
Ps: Atta BOY Roy!!!!! You were a VERY good boy…yes you were!!