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The Global Ambassadors – Kentucky Derby

#7 The Kentucky Derby: May 2021

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Historically applied to beloved letter couriers, a variation of this motto necessarily applied to us, as we continued our global journey as couriers of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Never contemplating, let alone allowing, that a global pandemic would interfere with our chicanery, we were ecstatic to get the (Dixie Land) Band back together; after all, it had been over two years since our wilding on land and sea in Panama.

After waiting 813,600 minutes following the completion of the Ironman, we were chomping at the bit to watch the running of the 147th Kentucky Derby, often referred to as “The greatest two minutes in sports.”

But I’ll get to that in a couple of minutes.

Author’s Note #1: Arguably an as exciting two minutes in sports occurs in Pamplona as the bulls gather speed, to say nothing of intent, after negotiating Dead Man’s Curve and navigating past those fools desperately hoping to outpace them into the bull fighting ring.

Author’s Note #2: The identities of “those fools” described in Author’s Note #1 should be abundantly clear.

Serving as the conclusion to the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival, the Derby itself is typically attended by about 150,000 at Churchill Downs, where it has been held since 1875. Covering a span of 1 ¼ miles, or 10 furlongs, the first leg of the three Triple Crown races (the Preakness and Belmont Stakes being the others) may be best known for Secretariat’s 1973 record time of 1:59.40.

The Derby, absent scratches, routinely consists of 20 three-year-old thoroughbreds which qualify by earning points by finishing in the top four at pre-determined races, both domestically and abroad. For those that qualify, an entry fee of $25,000 is

Kentucky Derby Raceday

collected, along with a starting fee of an additional $25,000.

But prior to worrying about how much money we would make from our meager wagers on race day, we found ourselves far more concerned with soaking up the sights and sounds of Louisville in the days leading up to it.

We began our Wednesday evening by dive bar hopping, which began and ended the evening at Third Street Dive, with more than a few stops in between, including the Outlook Inn and numerous Irish pubs.

We awoke to a wet and rainy Thursday. Nonetheless, the opportunity to learn and experience more about two American sports icons, Louisville Slugger and Muhammad Ali, would not dampen any day. After touring the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center, we took a break before heading to dinner at La Bodeguita de Mima, a personality-oozing Cuban restaurant where, among other cultural delicacies, we devoured a Habano de Chocolate for dessert.  The evening concluded once again with dive bar hopping, the lowlight of which was no doubt the High Horse Saloon.

Kentucky Derby Raceday

Following Friday’s day-long bourbon tours and tastings at Makers Mark, Heaven Hill, and Bardstown Bourbon, where we got schooled on the ins and outs of all things bourbon, we were invited to dinner with George’s potential colleagues at the Captain’s Quarters. Overlooking the Ohio River, this four-hour dinner featured the savoring and slow imbibing of 10-year Pappy Van Winkle, an enormous treat regardless of ones affinity for corn-based elixirs. The conclusion of the evening was marked by George’s cancelation of an Uber, which he did in person, by rolling down his window to notify Leosvani, the driver, as we piled into our long-awaited cab. The cancellation fee attached to this highly personal, barely socially distanced “verbal notification” rideshare faux paux: $27.

It was a picture perfect 73 degrees and sunny on race day as we stood to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Although the announced crowd of 51,838 represented only about 1/3 the number of attendees in just about any other year, it was notable for the fact that it was the biggest sporting event in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic, which proved to be a short-lived ‘honor’ given the capacity of the Indy 500 later in the month.

What was perhaps most evident throughout the day, other than the all-inclusive food and (alcoholic) beverage, was just how approachable, engaging, and personable the race goers were, to say nothing of their legendary, festive attire. Moreover, Churchill Downs’ ambiance cannot be easily matched, particularly when considering our nattily attired crew, one awash in pastels and bowties. The reduced capacity also greatly contributed to the ingress and egress (especially at the bars), further adding to the day’s allure.

Following eleven races taking place earlier in the day, the Derby went off in spectacular fashion and quickly made it past our vantage point, a box in section 320.

Essential Quality was the early 2-1 favorite given his undefeated status in five career starts; those odds moved to 3-1 in the lead up to the race. Eventually finishing fourth, Essential Quality proved to be as overrated as the event’s signature drink, the mint julep.

The same could not be said for Medina Spirit, which went off at 12-1 and appeared far from a risky proposition as the Bob Baffert owned horse won by a half-length in 2:01.02, giving Baffert an apparent record-breaking 7th Kentucky Derby victory. In the race’s closet finish since 2005, Mandaloun initially came in second and Hot Rod Charlie finished third.

However, an illegal amount of the steroid betamethasone contained in the ointment Otomax was discovered in Medina Spirit’s initial post-race test sample, as well as in his split sample.  Betamethasone is illegal when found in the blood on race day given its potential to enhance performance. The confirmation of the failed tests invalidated Medina Spirit’s win, with Mandaloun, a 26-1 longshot, eventually being declared the winner and collecting the $1.8 million purse while Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs for two years.

Kentucky Derby Raceday

This marked the first time since 1968 that a Derby winner had been disqualified due to a failed drug test, and only the second time in the Derby’s illustrious 147-year history that the winning horse had been dq’d.

Adding to this disappointing chain of events was the sadness felt throughout the racing community months later resulting from Medina Spirit’s death, the horse having collapsed and died following a workout at Santa Anita.

Per Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulations, the financial result, however large its accompanying asterisk, stood: Medina Spirit paid $26.20 to win, $12.00 to place and $7.60 to show, with a total race handle of $155.4 million.

More important result: Bucket List 7, Global Pandemics 0

In your face (mask), COVID-19, we are back in the saddle!

Bring on “A tradition unlike any other.”

Kentucky Derby Raceday

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