A year ago a good friend of mine called to ask an intriguing question.
Do you want to go to The Kentucky Derby?
It was intriguing because, of course, the answer to the question was yes. However, swinging it financially and having it all work out were different matters. Being a newbie to Kentucky (only eight months here at the time) I had no idea about getting tickets, logistics, how much it would cost in total, etc. However, my friend, Rick, had been before. His plan was to get tickets in the infield -- $80 bucks, I believe was the final tally for a ticket -- and while you can't actually watch the race from the infield, you can watch it on the big screen, enjoy the environment, go to Churchill Downs and say you went to the Kentucky Derby.
With this as a backdrop I said, ‘Sure I'm in.’
Oh boy. I had no idea what I was in for....
We met up in Louisville early on the morning of the Derby and coordinated our plan to drive to Churchill Downs, park and make it into the infield. My friend Rick lives in Ohio. He is in a wheelchair so logistics at times are a little different but not really that much. We have, over the years, been able to go to lots of sporting events and stuff with no problem. On this morning we drove to a massive parking lot, caught a shuttle bus into Churchill Downs and made our way to the entry to the infield. No issues at all. Super easy. Made it through heavy security with no problem. Again, super easy.
One thing that immediately struck me as an outsider was just how many people were here. There were masses and masses and masses of people. Swarms of them. A sea of people everywhere you looked. I've been to several major sporting events, NFL games, college basketball, pro hockey, but this was a spectacle above all others as far as the sheer volume of people. It was really cool to see the people dressed up, all the history and heritage. Definitely a very cool atmosphere.
We went into the infield through a lowered tunnel (remember this later.) We got into the infield and it was great -- again, super awesome atmosphere. There were a lot of young people partying and I saw some people drinking in a way that made me question whether these individuals would see the Derby, but so be it. Sure enough I saw one person being wheeled out on a stretcher at one point. Too many Mint Juleps I guess...
And then, in a foreshadowing of what was to come, it started to sprinkle. It was a light rain at first. No big deal. We weren't really equipped for rain -- no ponchos or gear, and we were in the infield, with no shelter. No big deal, though. We will tough it out.
And then, it really started to rain. Rain heavy. And, when I say heavy, I mean heavy. Within a matter of minutes we were soaked to the core. We joked to each other that, well, it couldn't rain any heavier than it was, and then it did - the rainfall got heavier and thicker. It literally stayed this way for hours. We were sitting in an open field in a relentless, unforgiving monsoon. A torrential downpour that never let up. If was raining so hard the horses were starting to pair up. Soon the entire infield was one big swampy swamp. A big, muddy mess. Through it all we toughed it out and had some fun and picked a few horses, with some success I might add, but around race 7 we realized there was still a long, long ways to go before the big race. And, we were cold. Shivering cold, soaking wet, and the rain kept falling and falling and falling some more.
Then, a very thoughtful individual, noticing my friend was in a wheelchair, approached and said, ‘You may want to get out of here. The tunnel into the infield just flooded completely and they've closed it.’ This caused a little bit of a mini-panic. There was still hours to go, the rain was coming down, and the way we got into the infield was under water and my friend was in a wheelchair. We approached a police officer and asked if there was another way out if we needed it and he said there was another tunnel but there were concerns about it flooding, too, and if that happened everyone was going to be stuck in the infield for the foreseeable future.
Yikes. We made the difficult decision to leave out of an abundance of caution. We were freezing cold. I mean shivering, borderline convulsions shivering, but we didn't want to leave. We decided however, to leave, and we weren't the only ones. The entire infield was leaving, too. People couldn't handle it anymore. They weren't dressed for hours in a chilly, torrential monsoon. I would guess that as we left, so did 50 percent of the crowd, roughly a couple hours before the big race.
So, if people ask me today if I’ve ever been to the Kentucky Derby, the answer is, well kind of. I'm going back to the derby this year, to finish the deal.
This year I’m going prepared, an inflatable boat in tow ...