CRAWFORD | A new Derby memory, 'My Old Kentucky Home' as I'd nev - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | A new Derby memory, 'My Old Kentucky Home' as I'd never experienced it

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford
Veterans after the Kentucky Derby. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. Veterans after the Kentucky Derby. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.
WDRB's Rick Bozich captures the "money shot." WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. WDRB's Rick Bozich captures the "money shot." WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — I've had a lot of Kentucky Derby moments. Back at the barns when they call the horses for the Derby. Walking across the track with the Derby horses to the wall of humanity in the stands. Hearing “rider's up” in the paddock.

I had another Kentucky Derby moment on Saturday. Or maybe just a Kentucky moment. It came courtesy of Churchill Downs public relations director Darren Rogers, who passed through the press room and invited some of us to watch the race from the turf course across from the grandstand, next to the winner's circle.

As we got ready to walk across the main track to get there, he said, “When the band plays, ‘My Old Kentucky Home,' they'll sing right to you.”

Who will sing? Who's singing?

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Then the University of Louisville band struck up the opening notes of Stephen Foster's song, and I knew who Rogers was talking about.

Everyone. Everyone sang. A wall of words. The old grandstand seemed to amplify the voices. The largest crowd ever to watch the race, 170,513.

I used to talk to an old friend, Cliff Guilliams, about what in Churchill Downs is left that was there in the old days. There isn't much. The old spires, and even they are dwarfed by luxury suites on both sides.

But this has always been there. These voices. This buzz.

The Kentucky Derby draws a crowd from around the nation. But in these minutes, they're all Kentuckians. I suspect even Wildcat and Cardinal fans were in full voice.

Watch the moment here to see for yourself.

After the race, I was moved by the gesture of a race official to give a rose to a group of honor guard veterans wearing Purple Heart hats. A World War II veteran, Charles Wilson, in one of his original uniforms, medals abounding, held a rose and started to head on back to the other side of the track when a Kentucky State Trooper him to shake his hand. Then another. Then he made his way down a line of maybe 20 officers, speaking with each of them.

Churchill Downs deserves some credit — not just for giving a group of journalists a new perspective on the old race, but for responding to last year's stinging criticisms from California Chrome's owners not just with a defensive statement, but with action.

Churchill drew rave reviews from owners for its hospitality this weekend, most notably from the owner of the winner, Ahmed Zayat, who said, “I want to say something in front of all of you here, because we should commend people when they do things well. In the past there has been a lot of criticism about Churchill. As a person who has been coming here and had more than one Derby runner, I have seen a 180 percent change in all attitudes. And the whole organization from A to Z, it's something that I would like personally to thank them for their hospitality for what they have done for all owners and horsemen.”

It was, without question, something to see.

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