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From the grandstands, where well-dressed, mostly mild-mannered Kentucky Derby-goers stayed dry, the infield crowd looked like a menagerie of brightly-colored ponchos and tarps strung up every which way behind the chain link fence.
The most experienced in the infield had their process dialed in, perfected over the past three years of rain.
Bad weather held off most of the day, but rain soaked the infield and track in the hours before the Derby — about 150,700 people attended this year, the lowest number since 2004, according to official attendance records.
Despite the bad weather, those in attendance got to witness a shocking race result. Maximum Security, the horse that crossed the finish line first, was disqualified. That put Country House, with 65-1 odds, as the official winner.
In the grandstands, an audible gasp. Among few, a cheer and a raising of fists.
One who came despite the rain and witnessed the controversial race was Crystal Daniel. She attended the Derby for her ninth time this year, and came prepared.
Daniel and her friends — her group has grown from 3 to 10 over the past nine years — had covered every inch of their picnic area in clear plastic garbage bags. She had on boots and a yellow rain coat. She was ready.
“Oh, I’m not gonna get wet,” Daniel said.
Many in the infield constructed makeshift structures of tarps and chairs to stay dry. Some said they even snuck in poles to prop up their tarps.
One infield-goer said she sneaked a pole through security to prop up a tarp, and a nail clipper to cut zip-ties.
More severe storms were likely on the way, though, and Daniel said she came prepared.
Daniel could see a bit of the track from her seat, but the real show, she said, would be in the tunnel leading from the infield to the grandstands.
Last year, the tunnel filled up with about a foot of water, she said. People stripped off nearly all their clothes before wading through.
In another part of the infield, about 50 yards from her picnic area, she’s seen people use a muddy slope as a slip-and-slide that leads to a betting station.
“It’s a different kind of party compared to those people over there,” Daniel said, waving toward the grandstands.
On the opposite corner of the infield, Jim and Anita Roush were also hoping to stay dry.
This was their 30th year of marriage, and their 30th year at the Derby together. Jim Roush has come nearly every year since 1971.
In that time, they’ve crafted a rain system that, like Daniel’s, involved plenty of plastic bags, zip ties and duct tape.
Their original rain plan, which involved hoisting a tarp over their picnic area by attaching it to the infield fence, was shot down by security guards.
Guards told them the tarp would obstruct the view of people behind them. Last year, the guards said the tarp could be ripped from the fence and blow into the track.
“They just care how it looks for them,” Jim said, waving to the grandstands.
The rain has not changed the style or demeanor of most Derby-goers, though.
First-timer Candace Carter said the experience was everything she had hoped for. Carter came mostly for the fashion — she wore a blue dress, and a blue, lacy hat she made herself.
Carter and her friends stood about 10 minutes in line to take a picture in front of an ivy-draped wall sponsored by Old Forester, where people showed off their outfits and posed for photos.
Like many other first-timers, Carter saw the Derby as a bucket-list item where she could dress up and soak in the atmosphere.
Even if it rains, “I can deal with it,” Carter said.
“For me, it’s about dressing up,” Carter said. “If it’s a downpour, that’d be a little disappointing, but we’ll just move. It’ll be fine.”
Jimmy Kirby and his friends — he brought 35 friends and family this year — has organized a Derby trip for nine years. He calls it the “Kirby Derby.”
Over the past nine years, Kirby, who sported a tie about six inches long, said his trip has brought nearly 170 people to the Derby for their first time.
“It’s about getting together with everybody,” Kirby said. “People love it.”