Derby Report Friday May 1, 2009
In the last few years, Churchill Downs has made an effort to promote the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), which has lived in the shadow of their signature race, the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), since 1875. In partnership with the breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Churchill Downs advertised this year’s Oaks as being Ladies Day and encouraged both men and women to “go pink.” Because of the promotion, Churchill Downs was decorated in pink all over the plant, which is known for its bland white with green trim. The track is donating at least $100,000 to the organization.
Pink flowers were planted along the rails of the paddock and around the Derby Winner’s Circle, which is an enclosure separate from Churchill’s regular winner’s circle. Most of the pink flowers will be replaced with roses come Derby Day, and the popular pink T-shirts of the crowd will give way to full, flowing Derby regalia.
Although the track bustled on Friday, the Oaks is known as Louisville’s Day at the Races and is more of a local attraction than the internationally acclaimed Derby. Some Derby starters, such as early choice I Want Revenge, schooled in the paddock, which was surrounded by a crowd four people deep as of eleven in the morning.
Derby Report Wednesday April 29, 2009
During Derby week, the media descend on Churchill Downs with fervor, and people who normally don’t know Secretariat from Big Brown are suddenly entrenched in Derby madness. A vast array of tents and booths containing every local TV and radio station are set up along the backstretch, fondly known as “Media City.” ESPN and NBC trucks are parked in a separate lot, while golf carts containing camera crews and equipment swarm the grounds.
Thoroughbreds, especially racehorses, have a reputation for being easily excitable and nervous, and the stress of the Derby Day crowd cheering and waving can cause a horse to “wash out” and become drenched with sweat well before the race even runs. In an effort to keep the horses quiet and calm in the days leading up to the Run for the Roses, some trainers bring their horses out to gallop under the cover of darkness, away from the reporters’ scrutiny.
Amidst the whirring of the cameras, one horse stood quietly. Friesan Fire, a top Derby contender who wintered in Louisiana, behaved especially well, standing quietly in the center of the throng and not moving a muscle until it was time to take to the track. The horses who handle the media pressure well tend to also keep calm in the crowds on Derby Day, giving them a better chance to take the trophy.
Derby legend D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Roses four times, is always popular with the media, whether or not the aging conditioner has a horse in the race. This year he does, with longshot Flying Private, who has trained strongly all week.