LOUISVILLE, Ky. I was going to write a lengthy piece describing my first experience of attending/covering a Kentucky Derby Sunday. Unfortunately, as the words started to come off my fingers, I felt it was more poetry than any form of true journalism.
My Kentucky Derby experience was SPECIAL, there’s simply no doubt about that. But in hopes to avoid gushing, I’m going to try to tell the story with photos and videos, which I will follow with explanations and/or thoughts. I hope you’ll enjoy.
Louisville is such a cool place during Derby week. Upon landing, I was greeted by representatives from Woodford Reserve, who were bearing gifts of “Bourbon Balls”, a candy composed of chocolate, bourbon and a pecan. It’s a thoughtful gift, take my word for it.
As hopeful as I was to start the trip, the first person I bumped into at the airport was Shane Battier. Ugh. Sadly my FlipCam was packed up, or the conversation we had about Duke losing to Maryland on his Senior Night at Cameron Indoor Stadium would have been recorded for prosperity. We would have edited out the part about how the Blue Devils went on to beat the Terps in the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament semifinals that same year.
I was told my multiple Kentucky residents that there are tracks more beautiful than Churchill Downs (including Keeneland in Lexington); but it didn’t look that way Thursday night. As the sun was just leaving it’s highest point-the view from 6 floors above was breathtaking. Of course, I had been informed that morning on “The Morning Reaction” that there was record rain in the forecast for the Derby, so I composed some thoughts…
There was a crew from HRTV on the same balcony. They told me they weren’t surprised to hear I was from Baltimore. Not sure what that meant, but I was both offended and proud at once.
Probably the most iconic Kentucky Derby champion of my lifetime, Barbaro is remembered outside the front gate of Churchill Downs. It would be nice if he could direct the post-race traffic on Kentucky Derby day, but he’s doing a fine job nonetheless.
On my way out of the track I bumped into a fella you may have heard of named Calvin Borel. He told me he had ran “Super Saver” at Churchill Downs in the mud a year earlier, and the horse loved the slop. He also called me “sir” a lot. He’s won 3 of the last 4 Kentucky Derbies, and 3 of the last 4 Triple Crown races overall. I’ve won “worst dressed” at informal Harford County Farm Fair polls at least 4-5 times in my life.
Lyle and Linda Graham were my hosts for the weekend. They’re outstanding people, which is remarkable considering their relation to “The Luckiest Dang Gal on the Face of the Planet.” The first mint julep came Thursday night with dinner. I was almost at the floor after just 3 sips. They sell them for 10 bucks at the track on Derby day and they’re made with Early Times whiskey. The same Early Times that is 40% alcohol by volume. I’m reasonably certain that in Kentucky, bourbon is consumed starting at the age of 13. Instead of chocolate milk in your 8th grade lunch, it’s straight bourbon.
I was told by a number of folks that mint juleps aren’t popular other than during Derby season. Other things that are popular during Derby season:
4-Losing your mind
The bourbon thing will baffle me for years. As a beer drinker, I don’t much care for a “sipping” drink. Of course, no one was “sipping” Mint Juleps. They were drinking them as if they would make the pretty girls like them more.
In covering “The Run for the Roses”, there’s no more exciting time than Friday morning between 5:30 and 8am. NBC broadcasts “The Today Show” live from the backstretch, as does every local morning show based in Louisville. Multiple radio stations broadcast live as well, and there’s something cool about watching the sun come up at The Twin Spires. I’m trying to avoid the poetry, I swear. Al Roker looks good these days. I asked him if he had any tips for Ray Bachman and he said “Duke sucks.” (That may or may not have actually happened.)
They just installed the lights at Churchill Downs for night racing a year ago. Before that, horses would apparently just run in the dark. I suggested they re-consider the decision. Had the lights been off, I may have had a chance at talking to some of the girls in Kentucky.
Apparently, if you wear a nice shirt on the morning of the Kentucky Oaks, important people will talk to you. Not only did Bob Baffert chat with me, but Nick Zito and Todd Pletcher gave me a few moments off-camera as well. Baffert made it clear that he wasn’t happy about Lookin’ At Lucky on the slop and with the bad post draw; and Zito appeared concerned about Ice Box; eventually ending our chat and telling me we’d talk again in Baltimore. I passed all of that information along to you-and sure enough, Ice Box struggled (even though he eventually rallied), and Lookin at Lucky had an awful trip. If only John Harbaugh could be this honest when I talked to him…
Sometimes an interview isn’t JUST an interview. Colonel Sanders is much more than an interview. He’s an icon. As someone who has inhaled original recipe and Honey BBQ Wings for the better part of his life, I was almost speechless in his presence. Until-of course-he ruined it for me by telling me his name was Bob Thompson before we started recording. Bob Thompson?!?!? UGH. That’s like Santa Claus telling little Ralphie “Hi there, Steve Kellerman. What can I get you for Christmas?” I couldn’t even call him Colonel Sanders when I talked to him. I just called him “The Colonel.”
Matt Hobbs from WHAS 11 in Louisville told me the interview gets me a “hood pass.” The gal from KFC told me the interview gets me a coupon for a free “Double Down Sandwich.” Hobbs told me they’re the same thing. Matt is a qualified authority on this. Just trust me.
When it comes to debauchery, there’s no one that knows more than Nestor Aparicio. I don’t always trust “The Nasty One” about everything, but this was an area where I ABSOLUTELY trusted him. He directed me to leave the track by 8:30 Friday morning, and to head over to Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. BEST.DECISION.EVER.
When you ask a pretty girl for a recommendation upon sitting down and she says “How about a Bloody Mary?”, the answer is YES. The next response is to sit back and order ANYTHING she thinks you should…
That’s right. “TLDGOTFOTP” and I enjoyed a breakfast of Crabs Benedict, Bourbon French Toast, Home Fries, Cheese Grits and Bloody Maries with Bob Dylan playing in the background. I hope to know what Heaven is at some point, but I find it hard to believe it could be any better than this. Oh-and there were FLAMENCO DANCERS…
…the scene in front of me was so amazing that even Adam Duritz couldn’t put it into a song. Worth noting, there is an outstanding modern art shop next to Lynn’s called Regalo that has sells fleur-de-lis (I’m not really certain what the plural form of that is) in every possible formation. Cool place.
Also, there were a slew of joggers who ran barefoot through the streets of Louisville Friday morning. Try that in Charm City and you’d probably have to learn about treatments for Hepatitis. Yikes.
You really can’t stroll through Louisville without stopping at the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. Mostly because while you’re strolling through Louisville, it’s hard to avoid a bat so large only Godzilla could possibly swing it. Anne Jewell is the executive director of the museum, she gave me the scoop on the bat…
As you know, I am by no means baseball geek, but this was an issue for me. Ol’ “Lucky” got to hold Babe Ruth’s bat. That’s right, she got to hold BABE RUTH’S BAT. It’s just a shame she HAD NO IDEA HOW TO HOLD IT…
Ugh. They showed me how the bats were made there, but only after I put on some awesome goggles…
…apparently they make Miguel Tejada’s bats at Louisville Slugger…
…but I wasn’t sure what the vile labeled “B12” sitting by his section was all about. I guess it’s a mystery.
In all seriousness, the Louisville Slugger museum and factory is very cool, despite the fact that they have to hit you with this ton of bricks on the way out…
You can see Eddie Murray’s 501st home run bat (and if you’re like me-when you saw the thing, you IMMEDIATELY remembered that 501 was a grand slam in September 1996 on a night where the team got just 2 hits); as well as bats used by Cal Ripken, Frank Robinson and even good players from OTHER teams (I just don’t care about them), including teams that are actually good currently.
The Muhammad Ali Center is also on the water in Louisville. I didn’t get to spend much time there, but I’m still pretty certain it was a better experience than Shane Mosley had in Las Vegas later that night.
Kentucky Oaks day is special. Nothing like Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico. There were 116,000 fans in attendance at Churchill Downs Friday, and I’m pretty sure that 80,000 of them were freaking GORGEOUS women. In fact, the line for the women’s bathroom was one of the best places to be all day, as you could just take in the imagery. I wandered to the infield to gather my thoughts…
Why didn’t I bring sunglasses to Louisville? I have no idea. Maybe I was too concerned with things like alcohol and women. Trust me, there was good reason to be concerned with those things. Lucky preferred the Kentucky Oaks Lily to the Mint Julep; probably because it tasted like Kool-Aid. Amongst the 116,000 in attendance-I somehow managed to find some family members…
Despite being an overwhelming favorite, we bet on Blind Luck to win. She won. We made money. Not much, but we made money. It’s a better result than the other 364 days of my year. Apparently the locals love Kentucky Oaks day in Louisville-so much so that they actual close schools to celebrate. That’s right, they close schools for a horse race. And apparently most businesses allow a “floater” day for Friday. These are GOOD things. The women of the city SHOULD be allowed to take the day, drink, wear sundresses and hug strangers. The men of the city should me allowed to do the same…you know, if they want.
Dinner was at a joint called “Monkeywrench” in the arts district Friday night. The place had RIDICULOUSLY good Fried Green Tomatoes, but sadly my phone wasn’t charged. Life goes on. We stopped by a place called “4th Street Live” downtown (if I said it was Power Plant Live, you’d be looking at the same place). 3 Doors Down was there. We watched for less than a song. Other acts in town that night included Puddle of Mudd, Uncle Kracker, Candlebox, Young Buck and Drowning Pool. I saw none of them. Instead, I took Nestor’s advice again and wandered into a bar called “Phoenix Hill Tavern.” This was another good decision.
There’s so much to say about The Velcro Pygmies. They play every year on the nights leading up to the Derby at Phoenix Hill. They are almost as much a part of the Derby as seersucker suits. Celebrities come to see the Pygmies on Derby Eve. I was told that one year Dave Matthews himself strolled into Phoenix Hill just to see the Pygmies. I bumped into the guys from Puddle of Mudd who had come by to see the Pygmies because they wanted to see the group’s version of their own “She Hates Me.”
I consider myself a fan of Mr. Greengenes, and I never skipped a Metalhead show when I lived in Arizona-but on Derby weekend there isn’t a better cover band in the world. Their version of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is better than Poison’s. I’m not sure David Allan Coe can do justice to THEIR version of “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” Especially not in Kentucky on the night before the Derby.
I’m not sure if you can tell this by the picture, but there is underwear hanging from the ceiling fan in the middle of the floor. Plenty of it in fact. The Pygmies have no trouble convincing gals to disrobe right in the middle of the bar. It’s an impressive feet. We should consider something like a Congressional medal for the accomplishment.
The best part about Derby Eve is that despite last call already being at 4AM, the bars don’t hide the fact that they’re staying open until 6 or 7AM that night. Having been up at 5am to get to the track and being used to a 2AM last call, I didn’t see last call Friday night. There were conflicting reports Saturday morning regarding whether or not there ever WAS a last call.
As a note to government leaders in Baltimore and the state of Maryland. If you want to make Preakness a bigger event that attracts more folks from out of state, consider something similar. Of course Preakness will never match the Derby, but having a 4AM last call on Friday night could attract more folks to come in on Friday and spend the weekend instead of coming down Saturday morning.
It isn’t rocket science.
The thing about the liberal last call on Derby Eve is that it sets up well for a late arrival on Saturday afternoon. Unless you have some particular desire to spend your entire morning betting, there’s no need to get to the track particularly early. I used Saturday morning as a chance to sleep in before heading over to Uptown Cafe in the arts district for lunch.
The point of going to Uptown Cafe was that I had been told I needed to try a “Hot Brown” while I was in Kentucky. But when our waitress recommended that I give “Kentucky Burgoo Soup” a try, I took the bait. The payoff was a combination of chicken, duck, pork and beef that was more “odyssey” than “appetizer.” I have no idea why the thing is called “Burgoo”, but I know that you could call the thing “Don’tEatThisEverIt’sDisgusting” and it would STILL be delicious.
The Food Network has spent plenty of time in Louisville, particularly for the show “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” One episode was about the legendary Hot Brown, which deserves not only an episode of a cable TV show, but quite possibly an entire Ken Burns PBS Documentary series.
The Brown Hotel in Louisville apparently came up with the Hot Brown to provide patrons another late night food option. Which is strange, because I was pretty certain they came up with it to help Jesus feed 5,000 people in The Bible.
A Hot Brown is a magical combination of bread, turkey, cheese and tomatoes baked together and then covered with more cheese. It’s called a sandwich by some, but it is really more like an experience. It isn’t JUST delicious, it’s completely life-changing. In fact, just go ahead and insert your own adjectives here; because I could use just about all of them.
To steal the great line from “Superbad”, it really was “like the first time I heard the Beatles.” Or had a crab pretzel. Or had a crab pretzel while listening to the Beatles.
Sean Schmidt is a WNST listener and avid Ravens fan who now lives in Ohio. Two funny things there-didn’t the Orioles say we only had one listener? Sean’s girlfriend told me she listened every morning too. That’s two! And I could have sworn I heard Bruce Cunningham say that you couldn’t hear the station outside of Baltimore County? Sean listens in Ohio!!!
In all seriousness, Sean and his family were great. They stayed in Frankfort Friday night and were at the track by about 8am. They bought me an 8 dollar Budweiser, which makes them even better in my book. You can put me in a fancy suit, but it won’t change my desire to drink beer as if I was pitching horseshoes at the Angle Inn over in Dundalk.
The only frustrating moments of my weekend came when I found out that I wouldn’t be able to access the red carpet because I didn’t get the right credential. Oh well, lesson learned. I tried to position myself between the red carpet and “Millionaire’s Row”, but the mix of the weather and the fact that the only people who came by were some gal from “The Real Housewives of Whatever Town They’re In This Time” and former NBA big man Kevin Willis convinced me it wasn’t worth waiting.
By chance, I bumped into Ravens LB Ray Lewis, we chatted for about a minute before he was ushered into the exclusive part of the track. Apparently Cal Ripken made it to the race, but I never saw him. I did see Chris Redman, as the former Louisville Cardinals QB was gripping and greeting at the exclusive entrance. You’d never believe how popular he is there.
As far as the celebrity pictured above? Beats me. I was told he was a boxer, but I have no idea. Someone walking with him asked me if I would pose for a picture because we were wearing the same suit. I bet his cost more than mine. He wasn’t the last person to ask me to pose for a picture that day.
Maybe I should dress nice more often. Or at least clean underwear. I composed my thoughts…
That’s right, I told you to bet the 4. I hope you listened.
I thought my hat was awesome, but I’ll give credit where credit is due. This was the hat of the day. There were 150,000+ people at the track Saturday (twice as many as attended Preakness a year ago, but who’s counting?), and this guy was the winner. Well, this guy and the guy who went home with Diane Lane. A few winners at the track Saturday.
In a word…sexy. It rained all day Saturday-right up until about 15 minutes before post time. The infield was a MESS. As you’d expect, there were plenty of high school and college kids on the infield, and they celebrated appropriately. The rain continued throughout the weekend-in fact the storms were so bad that the Louisville Courier-Journal couldn’t print their Sunday issue…only the most important newspaper of their year.
Who says the industry is struggling?!?!?
Special thanks to Lucky for getting the action shots in the mud while I purchased and smoked a cigar. We have a happy relationship. After this picture, a cougar in the grandstand hit on me for 20 minutes while Lucky cleaned her shoes and feet. I call what we have your typical “Give and Take.”
I think I posed for this picture about 15 times before leaving the infield. In one picture, a dude asked me to flip him off. Hey-anything for a fan.
Our Derby seats were tremendous. First box seats behind the grandstand at somewhere near the 8th mile pole. By the time it stopped raining, they were amongst the best seats at the track. We bet a bunch of money on Super Saver, which left me breathing a little heavier. Rascal Flatts did the national anthem (meh-Little Big Town was MUCH better the day before).
“My Old Kentucky Home” is one of those goosebump moments that are just so rare in sports. I remember how I felt the first time I saw the walk-on of the Briage of Midshipmen at a Navy game; and I remember how particularly special it was when the Brigade came on the field before the Maryland/Navy game at M&T Bank Stadium in 2005.
This is even more than that. 150,000 people-all of whom would never want to be ANYWHERE but Louisville on the first Saturday in May. The same people whose lives practically shut down for the week leading up to the race in celebration of their town, their traditions, and their event. I’ve sang “Maryland My Maryland” with TREMENDOUS pride many times on Preakness Saturday…but even I was overwhelmed by the significance of the moment.
The guys sitting a row ahead of us for the race just gave all of Baltimore an idea for Preakness Saturday. Nicely played. Outside alcohol is banned from the Derby, but as these gentlemen pointed out-it IS 10 bucks for a Mint Julep.
Even by the time the post parade began, the sun was already starting to poke through. By the time the race was over, the sun was almost glaring. The race was ELECTRIC, as the 150,000 in attendance were hollering throughout. Super Saver won me a bunch of money, and I was NEVER in doubt.
Todd Pletcher was practically stoic despite finally breaking through for his first Kentucky Derby victory. The staff of Chuchill Downs wasn’t quote as subdued, offering him a raucous ovation after introducing him as “Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer Todd Pletcher.” In a radio interview with The Fan 1060 (KDUS) in Arizona Saturday morning, I told Mike Grose and Damien Anderson that Todd Pletcher was GOING to win a Kentucky Derby. I don’t think anyone ever doubted it.
Calvin Borel was late to the post-race press conference because he rode another horse after winning the Kentucky Derby. Of course he did. In the meantime, his beautiful bride engaged reporters (including the hard-working Kevin Van Valkenburg of The Sun, who is now the Triple Crown reporter for all of Tribune Newspapers) with stories about Preakness 2009 Champion Rachel Alexandra, who had lost to Unrivaled Belle in the La Troienne just a day earlier.
Glen Fullerton won $800,000 on a $100,000 “Derby Dream Bet” via CNBC. When he met Calvin Borel in the Media Center, I was reasonably certain they’d never stop hugging. I don’t know why they would have.
Dinner Saturday night was late at the Bluegrass Brewing Company in St. Matthews. And while the Beer is Food there (I recommend the American Pale Ale and the Nut Brown Ale amongst others), the Food is Food as well. I actually ordered something called the “Sausage Fest.” It was quite the party.
There isn’t as much reveling in Louisville on Saturday night. The parties are nothing like the lavish VIP events (including the legendary Barnstable Brown party) on Friday night. Saturday night is more of a night to wind down. Much of the city watched the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight, and I was told that the city roundly took in the Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya tilt on Derby night in 2006 as well. It’s a good way to wind down. Plus, it’s legal. Not every effective way to wind down is.
If Friday is a day for civic jubilation in Louisville, Sunday is a day for civic recovery. Brunch was at Hunting Creek Country Club, followed by the VERY popular Derby Pie desert.
They now how to do things in Louisville. Chocolate, walnuts, pecans, chocolate chips, bourbon and caramel are all potential ingredients in Derby Pie. Derby Pie is now a common ingredient in Glenn Clark’s heart.
Even to the last moments of the trip…classy. What else would I have expected?
There it is. I know I gushed, but I hope you were still able to follow.
Go to the Derby. I seriously can’t recommend it enough. Just go. Figure out what it will take-cut some corners as necessary-just go.
There’s seriously nothing like it.
Flexing my mic muscles since 1983…