Earlier this week I asked you to share your Kentucky Derby stories. There are many reasons this time of the year is special, but it’s difficult to understand why until you hear their stories. I ask that you continue to send them to [email protected] The first two stories show a familiar dichotomy.
David C. shares a funny story of his first experience that might remind you of a time or two you spent in the infield.
A bunch of friends and myself took a bus down to the Derby. We’re all imbibing quite a bit of everclear in mixed drinks on the way down, so we’re feeling pretty good when we get off the bus. As soon as we walked into the infield, we all looked at each other in shock. We were used to Keeneland and had dressed up a bit. It was total hillbilly mayhem.
After two hours on a bus drinking everclear, I’m pretty sure we were still the most sober people in the infield. We strolled around watching, what I’ve come to find out are, the normal Derby events. Porta potty running…until a guy was hauled off in an ambulance. Mud fights….til we realized the mud was quite possibly made of sewage.
Lastly, as we walk around, a very large man stops a friend of mine and pokes my friend with his right hand a few times. He warns us that big guys like him have to watch out, because people were looking for people like him to beat up. It wasn’t until about a minute into the conversation we realized he’s missing the top half of all the fingers on the hand he’s poking my buddy with (an injury prior to the Derby). Then we also notice that his numbs have been scraped open in the scuffle and he’s leaving bloody nub prints all over my buddy’s shirt. We all nearly puked as we walked away and spent the rest of the day avoiding coming in contact with my friend’s shirt.
On the good side, I won a bunch of money on Mine that Bird and my wife and I found out the next day that we were pregnant with our first child.
The second story is a little bit longer, but a lot more meaningful. Keith H. explains how the Derby helped transform his life.
I can honestly say that nothing has had a larger or more far reaching impact on my life than the Kentucky Derby, and that impact happens to be intimately intertwined with the University of Kentucky. I grew up in Louisville, so like any Louisvillian, the Derby and the festival leading up to it were always huge events for my friends and family and myself. Whether it was waking up super early and going to the balloon race as a small child, getting harassed by the cops in the middle of a rain storm at Thunder, or trying to sneak bourbon in plastic bags taped to our inner thighs into the infield, the Kentucky Derby has been the foundation for so many great memories throughout my lifetime. The first time I ever won money gambling was when I was eight years old and my dad gave me two dollars to put on a horse when we were at a Derby party. I put it on Silver Charm, got back 10 bucks, and was ruined for life.
Fast forward to my Sophomore year in college at UK. I started school undeclared because I had no idea what I wanted to study. After the end of your second year in school, they require you to choose a major and I still had no clue what I was going to do. All I knew was that having a normal old 9 to 5 office job sounded like absolute misery, so I knew what I didn’t want to do. My buddy who I grew up doing Derby stuff with, who was my roommate at the time in Haggin Hall (no longer exists, praise be!), told me that UK had a horse farm and that maybe I should check it out and see if working with horses might be something that interested me. I did not grow up around horses, I had never ridden horses, and I knew nothing about them other than what I had learned from going to the track (not much), but I was open to the idea because I did not have a better one. I met with my advisor, declared Animal Science as my major on a complete whim (the Equine Science major had not been established yet), and signed up for Animal Science 101.
It was during that introductory Animal Science class that we took a field trip out to Maine Chance Farm, a breeding and research horse farm owned and operated by the University. The Farm Manager said that they were short on help and looking to hire some new people, so I sheepishly volunteered and got my first horse job. Luckily for me, it was a teaching farm so the management and other students that worked there were willing to be patient and help out a dumb city boy like myself who didn’t even know which end the food went in and which end it came out. I slowly learned my way around a horse and fell in love with the animals and the work that went along with them. I also met my future wife at that time, who was also a student worker at the farm. I started learning about Thoroughbreds in ways that I never had before, about pedigrees, conformation, veterinary care, and all of the many layers that make up the industry. I took a particular interest in the breeding industry, and upon graduating from UK I moved to Carbondale, Illinois, and completed a Masters program in Equine Reproductive Physiology at Southern Illinois University.
After grad school I moved back to Versailles and started working on a Thoroughbred breeding farm as a Broodmare Manager. I was later promoted to Farm Manager, a position I still hold on the beautiful Old Frankfort Pike. I have the privilege of overseeing the care of equine athletes, raising them from the time of conception until they are ready to go to an auction ring or be sent off to be broke for racing. There is no more gratifying feeling to see a horse that you helped bring into this world and raise go off and be successful in the sales ring or on the racetrack. It’s a stressful job, lots of long days and grueling nights, but there’s absolutley nothing I would rather be doing.
I know this has been a long story, but it’s hard to convey just how special the Kentucky Derby is to me and how big an impact it has had on my life. It’s not just a race to me, it’s a way of life that I am lucky enough to be able to share with my wife who followed a very similar path to mine and who currently works in the industry and at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm. And if it weren’t for UK and Maine Chance Farm, there is no other possible way I could have gotten a foot in the door. So cheers, Kentucky Derby, thanks for getting me to where I am today. Otherwise, I still might not know which end the food goes in and which end it comes out.