By JUSTIN HANSON (@HunterHanson1)
Photo credit goes to fiscaltimes.com.
The Kentucky Derby is not just a horse race.
At least, not if you are a Kentucky resident. When my family moved from Minnesota to Kentucky about two years ago, there were a lot of adjustments, but one of the biggest surprises was the enormous cultural significance placed on the two-minute-long race around a 1.25-mile track.
Louisville is an interesting city. Most of the locals think it is a Southern city, but it lies on the Ohio River. It claims to be a part of the South, but it directly borders Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio, is not far away. It is where East meets West and North meets South.
The Derby, though, is all about the South. From Seersucker suits to Southern-style dresses, mint julips and Derby pie, this event seems more about cultural pride than the race itself. In fact, it is such a big deal to locals that schools give the Friday before off as a holiday, called Oaks Day, where the locals head out to the track to enjoy the festivities before the “out-of-towners” take over Saturday.
Perhaps the reason the event has become so important is because of the value of tradition. The race has been held every year since 1875, and horse racing was one of the most popular sporting events for decades. Now that it is not on the forefront of the sports world, the Derby is the chance it gets to take the spotlight again. The Derby also give Kentuckians the chance to celebrate their traditions through the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” the official state song.
Maybe the event’s popularity is due to the star power of the celebrities that attend it. From actors to politicians and star quarterbacks, the Derby attracts the rich and famous from all over the country.
Or maybe it carries our interest because it is the first of the three Triple Crown races, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. This means that each year, when we watch the Derby we see who will be the next horse with a chance at history by winning the Triple Crown.
"Maybe the event’s popularity is due to the star power of the celebrities that attend it. "
Tom Brady (left) and Rob Gronkowski (right). Photo credit goes to USA Today.
And let me tell you: This year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquil, may have a shot. The horse was the favorite going in and showed why with a solid victory to improve to a flawless eight wins in eight races.
The event certainly has quite the atmosphere, as I’ve only ever seen Louisville more excited before the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville squared off in the NCAA March Madness tournament in 2014.
Oddly enough, though, the environment at Churchill Downs has two completely different feels to it. On the infield, the area inside the track, you find a large number of exceedingly drunk individuals. It comes across more like a tailgate party before an Alabama football game, except everyone is wearing their best clothes and a crazy hat. In the stands, though, it has a much more refined, sophisticated culture, almost reminiscent of aristocratic times.
Whatever the appeal and the reason for the race’s endurance and cultural significance, I think we can all agree that the best part is the eccentric names of the horses. Here are some of my favorites from this year:
Exaggerator. Outwork. Creator. Majesto. Gun Runner.
Talk about names with some confidence behind them.