To any casual observer who visits Kentucky, the city of Louisville appears to be a normal mid-sized American metropolis. With a population of just over 600,000 citizens, it hosts a triple-A baseball team, a soccer team, and a thriving arts scene for those who enjoy theater, classical music, opera, or ballet. Located on the Ohio River and sitting at the crossroads of three interstate highways, Louisville is a key hub in the national shipping and logistics system. Other major contributors to the local economy are the healthcare system and a manufacturing base that produces products as diverse as bourbon and baseball bats.
Then, beginning in early April, the city begins to focus its collective consciousness on one single event: the Kentucky Derby. The weather gets warmer, and cottage industries that depend on the annual horserace bloom right along with the flowers and buds on the trees. Fireworks displays, an air show, a marathon race, a steamboat race, a hot air balloon race, a parade, waterfront concerts, and countless parties and galas take place in the heady days leading up to the first Saturday in May. This colloquial holiday season culminates at 5:50 Central Time, when the gates open and twenty thoroughbreds sprint forth in a run for the roses. Billed as “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,” it’s a massive undertaking that impacts every aspect of life in this city for nearly a month.
Crawford and Channing Jamieson had been to the Derby numerous times, but this one was extraordinary due to the participation of their daughter and a horse owned by a Jamieson syndicate. They left their hotel on West Main Street with the intention of reaching Churchill Downs by the time the first race of the day went off. Once they arrived at the venue, they made their way to “The Mansion” on the sixth floor of the clubhouse. This was the most exclusive location at the track—a restaurant and bar reserved for the wealthy, the famous, and the well-connected. As Crawford transitioned into his networking mode, Channing moved to a porch overlooking the stadium and took the time to enjoy the visible traditions that take place at the Kentucky Derby. Looking down at the crowd in the clubhouse, the unique and flamboyant fashions on display brought a smile to her face. Bright colors, flashy suits, stunning dresses and elaborate hats on the ladies, all contributed to the ambiance and style of this iconic event where everyone wants to see and be seen.
Across the track on the infield, she observed the crowd in that location burgeoning to over seventy thousand fans. Unlike the genteel and sophisticated salon where she was standing, the infield would explode with a party-hearty environment often described as “spring break on crack.” The antics that went on in the infield were legendary.
Invisible to the throngs filing into the grandstands, the clubhouse and the infield, activity on the backstretch was business as usual for the trainers, grooms, and track attendants. A full slate of races was being run prior to the Kentucky Derby, so most of the workers on the backside were completing the same tasks they would normally face on any other race day. Gallo had two horses from Stone Fence Farms entered in races that Saturday in addition to T-three’s entry in the Derby. The work he and his grooms carried out to prepare and deliver the horses to the paddock allowed him to get his mind off the big race and enjoy what would otherwise be a slow and tense afternoon. When he and Jimmy finished the post-race efforts associated with his first two competitors of the day, he looked at his watch and realized that it was almost time for the “walkover.”
On Derby Day, owners and trainers walk with their horse from where the stables are located to the paddock tucked behind the clubhouse. At the Kentucky Derby, there are few perks more coveted than the “walkover.” Beaming owners and their guests revel in the exclusive privilege of accompanying their thoroughbred on this quarter-of-a-mile parade before one hundred and fifty thousand screaming fans. When Gallo and Jimmy led Tackle Tim Tom through the backstretch gap onto the track, they were accompanied by the three owners of Stone Fence Farms, along with John and Elliot. Since this was the first time the Stone Fence crew had ever participated in a Derby, the six men and one woman tried to take it all in, but the enormity of the event was somewhat overwhelming. There were twenty horses in the race, but on this day, they were accompanied by over 200 people.
“This is nuts!” said Jimmy. “Half these folks are drunk and the other half don’t know the front end of a colt from the back end of a filly. All this is gonna do is make the horses nervous.”
Gallo laughed. “Jimmy, just for once, stop complaining and try to live in the moment. We may never get back here again.”
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