From a very early age, my mom reported that I had a fascination with the Derby. Strange, living in Iowa as I did. It was tough to get souvenirs in Iowa in 1962! But when I was 8 years old, we moved to far western Kentucky -- Paducah -- and you couldn't convince me that horses weren't everywhere in Kentucky. Paducah being fairly far from Churchill Downs, I followed the Derby, collecting what I could from a distance.
Fast forward to college, when I chose the University of Louisville. It wasn't TOTALLY because of Churchill Downs and the Derby, but that didn't hurt! I used to pack a lunch, take my books, drive my VW to the parking lot at Churchill Downs, and just sit there and eat, study and look at the Twin Spires. In those days, the last day of finals at U of L was the day before the Derby, so that the Derby infield was like a giant celebration of the end of our school year. 1976, '77, '78, '79 - we were there. Wild and fun times. Great horses. Creative ways to sneak beer into the infield. And because I was a serious racing fan, I worked hard in the infield to actually SEE a horse sometime during the race, which many people never do. Some of the most special times of my life.
Fast forward to Derby Day, 1987. My first baby is due 6 days after the Derby and surely first babies are always late, right?! Not this one! I remember lying in the maternity ward the night of May 1, in pretty hard labor, and noticing after many hours of this that the clock said 12:20AM. I said, "Yes! I cannot believe this! I am going to have a Derby Day baby! What were the chances?!" Three hours later, she was born. She and I watched our first Derby together later that day, lying in the hospital bed. My family was amazed at my ability to will this birth into happening on Derby Day, and my mom said, "If you name that baby girl Alysheba, I'll kill you." (We didn't. Thought about it, though!)
The Kentucky Derby has been an important, pervasive presence in my life. I'll never miss it. Nothing better in the world than Louisville at Derby time.