The spring sun comes from the east to caress the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby is nigh, and an aura of magic is laid across the legendary racetrack.
The track’s backside is vibrant; all the horsemen gathered have but one goal: to win this race above all others. The Derby’s history is replete with greatness. Each running writes a novella. These are Kentucky’s finest hours. The eyes of the sports world focus on Louisville as post time nears.
These Thoroughbreds, the finest 3-year-olds, are led into the paddock to be saddled and then onto the Downs’ hollowed ground to the strains of Stephen Foster’s classic lament. There is nary a dry eye in the crowd, nearly 170,000. In those brief minutes, all are Kentuckians.
The start is thunderous, orgasmic. Entering the much-photographed first turn, the horses jostle for position; going the back stretch, they begin to separate. At the top of the stretch, they peer into that grueling last quarter-mile, knowing that only the one with the most heart and stamina can win this day, can wear the roses, will have his name etched into immortality.
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We have waited a year for this, but it is over in an eye’s blink.
I have been fortunate to have had many good experiences, but all pale in comparison to the magnetic lure of the Derby — its pageantry, intensity and excitement. For it is, without question, the greatest two minutes in all of sports.
As Irwin Cobb, the late Kentucky Derby humorist, said, until you go to Louisville and “behold the Derby, you ain’t been nowhere and you ain’t seen nothing.”
George B. Hanrahan Jr.