We posed a question to race-goers Saturday: How important is the actual Kentucky Derby race to you? Are you at Churchill Downs for the race or the whole spectacle of Derby Day?
"I'm here for the whole shebang, baby," said Dennis Votava, 59, of Mishawaka, Ind. "It's the greatest place to party and sit back and relax and enjoy the beautiful sunshine."
Votava, who wore a patchwork-quilt Cat in the Hat hat, soaked up rays in the infield with his son, Daniel, 28, also of Mishawaka. This was their fourth Derby together.
"This is a great bonding moment for me and my dad. We love it," Daniel Votava said.
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Near the fourth turn in the infield, Karen Vivenzio, 51, a nurse practitioner at the Veterans Administration hospital in Boston, said she came to the Derby "for the whole experience."
"Other than seeing the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Kentucky Derby was up there on my bucket list of things to see," Vivenzio said. "I'm going to bet on America Pharoah to win because that's my Egypt connection, and on Carpe Diem to place because that's my high school motto."
Venecia Richards, 33, of the Bronx, New York, surprised her father, Leonard Richards, 62, also of New York, with a trip to Churchill Downs.
"That's all I've seen him do, is watch the races, and so this year I decided to take him," Venecia Richards said. "People-watching is fun, but I'm here for the race."
Leonard Richards, originally from Jamaica, said he's always liked racing, but had never been to the Derby. He said he was thinking about betting on Firing Line because he likes veteran jockey Gary Stevens.
Sharon Hunt and Brad Chick, both 54 and of St. Louis, attended the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event last week at the Kentucky Horse Park and decided to go to their first Derby this week. She was excited at the prospect of seeing the race itself.
"It's the reason I'm here," Hunt said. "I've always loved the Kentucky Derby. This is my first time and it was on my bucket list."
Hunt, who wanted to be a jockey as a teenager, said she owns Mickey Brown Eyes, a descendant of 1973 Derby winner Secretariat. He competes in "eventing," a kind of horse triathlon that combines dressage, cross-country jumping and stadium jumping.
"He will run his heart out for you," Hunt said.
Chick said he was at Churchill specifically for the Derby race, too.
"It's important to me because she's so passionate about it, and I'm crazy about her," Chick said, referring to Hunt. "I've learned to appreciate horses and what they feel when they race. It sounds kind of corny, but when her horse runs, he's like a kid having the time of his life."
Cousins Bryan Ellsworth, 68, of Mexico City, and Joe Layton, 68, of Utah were in the Army together decades ago at Fort Knox, south of Louisville. But they have a connection to Derby history: Ellsworth's father and Layton's uncle, Reed Ellsworth, was a co-owner of Swaps, the 1955 Derby winner.
"We were here at Fort Knox 40 years ago, and we said we're going to come back and go to the Derby together," said Bryan Ellsworth. "We're from out west, and getting some of the Southern hospitality has been really enlightening. People are a lot friendlier than out west."
Layton said they used the Derby "as an excuse for a little rendezvous."
"There's nothing like the tradition," Ellsworth said. "And you can't beat the weather."
Derby first-timer Mikey Powell, 27, of Lexington, said what really attracted her to the race was Josh Groban, the singer who sang the national anthem before the Run for the Roses.
"I love him," Powell said. "He can sing like nobody else can."