Crowds cheering, music playing, people dressed to the nines, folks in funky hats, and races every few minutes. It sure looked like Derby Day.
Except it was Friday morning — in Lexington.
It was, in fact, the 35th running of the Little Kentucky Derby: The Lexington School's annual Kentucky Derby celebration, in which preschool kids "run for the roses" on stick horses and tricycles, while classmates, parents and friends cheer them on.
Some of the parents who were cheering for their kids Friday had raced in the Little Kentucky Derby themselves when they attended The Lexington School years ago.
Each preschool "jockey" was assisted by a "trainer" — an older kid from The Lexington School.
No Hollywood celebrities showed up. But just about everybody at The Lexington School turned out to watch the races on the parking lot.
Before the races, Lexington School alumnus Walker Montgomery sang the National Anthem. Then members of Inspiration, a band made up of Lexington School seventh-graders, did a rock 'n' roll version of My Old Kentucky Home, with their lead singer, Caitlin Flemm, handling the vocals.
Then it was off to the races.
There were 20 races, or heats, with names such as the Darby Dan Handicap, the Lane's End Sprint and the Foxtale Furlong.
For each race, the competitors lined up at one end of the course and dashed for the finish line when waved off by Darrin Wald, a physical education teacher who was the official starter.
One race, the Hidden Brook Challenge Classic, ended in a three-way tie among trike riders Gavin Moore, Carson Steiner and Harris Williams.
Head of School Charles Baldecchi said the Little Kentucky Derby got started 35 years ago as a way for kids to enjoy Kentucky Derby weekend.
"The Kentucky Derby was such an important thing for the Bluegrass, and they wanted the kids to have fun with it," he said.
He said The Lexington School has a year-round "buddy program," in which older kids are paired with younger kids. Having older kids act as trainers for the Derby riders is an extension of that, he said.
"We just find that if we can get middle school students to work with younger kids, it helps build community. The little ones look up to their buddies," Baldecchi said.
And the tradition will continue.
"I ask every eighth-grader to write a letter to me before they graduate, and tell me something they want to change and something they want to keep," Baldecchi said. "I bet that a good third of them mention this day as a memory and tradition they want to keep."
Jim Warren (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @heraldleader.