YOU DON’T HAVE TO SIT IN MILLIONAIRE’S ROW TO ENJOY THE DERBY S ince moving to Louisville in 2000, I’ve come to look forward to Derby season as much as any other time of the year. From the moment the festivities kick off with Thunder Over Louisville until Derby weekend ends, the city opens its doors to the world. The excitement is palpable all across town, and the pageantry is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. Before I had the hometown experience, I didn’t realize how all-encompassing the Derby is. When you watch the race on TV, you get the impression that it’s all about glitz and glamour. There’s certainly plenty of that — and I love a good Derby hat as much as the next girl — but there really is no single way to enjoy the Derby. Millionaire’s Row may be a fixture of TV coverage, but you don’t have to be a millionaire to have a wonderful time during the Derby.
The events leading up to the Derby can be just as thrilling as the run for the roses itself. Whether fireworks are lighting up the sky or giant balloons are racing across it, there’s something incredible to check out every day. Some businesses even shut down for Oaks Day (the day before the Derby), and it seems the race and the events surrounding it are all anyone can talk about. Maybe that’s what I enjoy most of all about the Derby. It creates a sense of collective participation that nothing else, aside from maybe Christmas, can match. There may only be 20 horses in the race, but it feels like the entire community is participating.
The best experience I ever had at the Derby was in 2010. I was dating my husband, Dave, at the time — that probably had something to do with how much fun it was. We bought general admission tickets, nothing fancy or expensive. Simply hanging out by the paddocks and enjoying the atmosphere was a blast. The people watching is top-notch, and everyone is there to have a great time. To be perfectly honest, you don’t even need to step foot on Churchill Downs to enjoy the Derby. Some years, we go to a friend’s house for a Derby party. We each draw a horse’s name out of a cup to make the race a little more interesting and enjoy some Benedictine sandwiches and Derby Pie. Though I don’t drink, many of our friends also enjoy that classic Derby staple, the mint julep. Again, it might not be an oil tycoon’s idea of a great time, but it works just fine for us.
I also appreciate the Derby as a chance to spread Louisville’s reputation as a welcoming city. I’ve spoken to people who are visiting from everywhere you can think of, and they all mention how impressed they are by the city and its residents. As a proud Louisville resident for nearly two decades now, I love hearing people express their admiration for our community. In closing, I want to wish everyone a wonderful Derby this year. See the sights, enjoy the atmosphere, and throw down two bucks on a bet. Just don’t gamble with your legal representation. -Melissa Emery
There may only be
20 horses in the race, but it feels like the entire community is participating.
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