Growing up in Louisville, the Derby Week Festival led up to the first Saturday in May. On Wednesday friends would picnic in the park beside the Ohio River to watch the steamboat race between the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen. Thursday was the Pegasus Parade in which I rode in a Chevy convertible with a Derby Princess. I didn’t know her. Dad had the insurance account for Jim Booher Chevrolet; he used the connection to be our driver. (We drove only Chevys for three decades.)

We didn’t have school on Friday when many families went to the Kentucky Oaks. The 100th Run for the Roses was the first Derby I attended. My parents had home parties on Derby Day because corporations bought most of the seats. At one party I met Penny Tweedy the year she raced Riva Ridge—a couple of years before her famed Secretariat.

In 2000 I started a tradition to fill the Tuesday of Derby Week which I called the poor person’s derby. During “Rotary Day at the Downs” dad would reserve an eight-top table for my friends on “Millionaire’s Row”. For $90 we had a buffet meal, access everywhere, and 8 races to watch. Four days later that same seat would cost $5000. We bet on the same jockeys, just very different horses. Our experience enhanced watching the Kentucky Derby on TV back in Moberly.

What traditions are associated with your hometown? How does a past experience transform an event today? Who are the eight with whom you’d want to share a table?

3 thoughts on “Poor People’s Derby

  1. Being one of those minisrters who moved every seven years or so, I’ve always made my hometown wherever I lived. But I did get to spend 14 years in Lexington, KY, and came to take the KY Derby as seriously and joyously as did the locals. The track at Lexington hosted all the races during April when you could see all the jockeys and horses that were getting ready for the Derby. Every year I would go with a group of older men — all members of the Men’s LIterary Society of the Church (which was actually a group that played poker once a month with a percentage of all the winnings being desigated to a church charity; they were literary only in the sense that they knew how to read their cards). I loved those guys! I never won at cards, never had the winning bet at the races, but made friends that have lasted forever. Most of them have passed on, and I had the honor of conducting their funerals, but they are to this day the best guys I ever got to sit around a tablel with, eating snacks, playing cards, talking about the races, and remembering “the poor people” by sharing our “winnings.” …. Thanks for helping me remember today. Mint juleps this Saturday!

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