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10 Notes From a Newly Deflowered Derby Virgin

May 3, 2009

A friend of mine in St. Louis travels to her parent’s house in Louisville every year for the Kentucky Derby. Her family hosts a bunch of people, whomever wants to go, feeds them, packs them on a rented schoolbus, and sends them off to the Derby. This was my first time going, so I’ve compiled a list for other future Derby virgins.

  1. There are a number of races throughout the day before the Derby (which people just call “Derby” for some reason, as in, “We’re going to Derby today”), which was held at 6:24 this year. Many people stake out spots in the parking lot and tailgate for hours before they enter the track. For instance, we arrived at the parking lot at 10:00 and didn’t head over to the track until around 3:30. I invented a game called Cans that actually caught on a bit by other bored people in the lot.
  2. When you make your way over to the track, stay with your group. If you lose the people in your group, the odds that you will find them are lower than the odds of any of the horses in the race. If you lose them, you’ll miss out on them doing things like smoking lit cigars from the wrong end.
  3. There are two places to sit at the Derby: the infield or the stands. Seats in the stands are hard to come by and cost between $300 and $3000. Infield access costs $40 and gives you access to such luxuries as mud, drunk people, port-a-potties, and little-to-no view of the horses. It’s essentially a massive frat party. We were in the infield.
  4. The people who sit in the stands dress up really nice. Some of the 100,000 people in the infield dress up, but most do not. I saw one person in a Big Bird costume, and two girls wearing nothing but trash bags.
  5. Bet on a horse. Just throw down a few dollars. It’ll make the race a lot more exciting, and you’ll find that you really care about the fate of those horses for about 2 minutes. $2 on a 50-1 horse (like the one that won this year) will net you $100.
  6. dscn9767The best entertainment of the day will happen before the race near the first turn. That’s where there are about 20 port-a-potties set up in a line, and inevitably a drunk guy will get up on top of them and try to run across the row. The crowd will go crazy, and some people will throw water bottles at that person. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll then witness a bunch of other people get up there and attempt the same thing. Most of the police just stood and watched.
  7. You will see horses for about 10 seconds, max. Most of the action you see will take place on the big screen.
  8. Don’t use the port-a-potties. I saw some things in there that will haunt me in my dreams.
  9. The hospitality in Louisville is amazing. If you have extra time in Louisville, go to the Irish Rover restaurant. Best fish and chips ever (do what I do and get a salad instead of the chips).
  10. You might just be touched by the kindness of strange friends. (Warning: This is a little gross.) We spent quite a bit of time watching a random guy take care of his friend, who had thrown up on himself and on the ground. The friend was truly tender in taking care of him, wiping his mouth, covering the ground with paper towels, giving him water…as gross as it was, my heart was warmed to see such acts of loyalty and kindness.

The question remains: Should you go to the Derby? I’d say yes. In fact, I’d say that you should go twice: Once to the infield, once to the stands. Two very different experiences, but both with their fair share of stories.

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