Churchill Downs began its fall meet October 25, with a surprise announcement that limited spectators would be allowed to attend, provided all health protocols were followed. I had already conceded that attending lie race this year would not happen, so I was elated to hear attendance would be allowed by the general public. Coincidentally, their opening day was the best day for a friend and myself to visit to attend the new Derby museum exhibit about female jockeys, “Right to Ride,” as well as see everything pertaining to Authentic being honored as the most recent Derby winner.
Since I had not anticipated attending any races this year, the fact that the day that was most ideal to go to Louisville was opening day didn’t even register until the track announced they would allow spectators and I jumped at the chance to get tickets.
Beginning at the Derby museum, the natural first stop was to get a photo with the horse model painted each year like the most recent Derby winner, particularly since I am along for the for the ride as a micro share holder through MyRacehorse. It marked my Derby celebration as my first time on-site since the race. The undeniable highlight was the showing of the movie about the Derby experience, updated each year to showcase the newest Derby winner. To see Authentic on a large screen, running to glory in a larger-than-life format, gave me goosebumps and took me right back to the feeling of him winning in the immediate aftermath of that September day. To paraphrase the famous Irwin Cobb quote about beholding the Derby, there’s no way to ever know what having even a small percentage of a horse that wins it would feel like until it happened. It was pure elation!
But naturally, the lure of the track was strong after nearly a year away, the longest I’ve ever gone without attending races since I moved to a state where there are tracks. It felt like coming home, seeing the track spread out before me, the horses fired up with competitive energy and necks bowed making their way to the paddock and hte thunder of hooves down the stretch, as well as seeing Harley.
Some aspects of doing things for the first time since protocols changed can seem surreal still, and at Churchill the main one (since I have been required to wear a mask and socially distance at work for months, that was not new to be expected to abide by) was that the horses from the last race had barely returned to the grandstand side before Churchill employees were ushering us to the exit.
A few highlights of the day besides the parts related to Authentic, and frankly just getting outside of the usual routine as I’ve been mostly isolating except for work and essential errands, were seeing an American Pharoah colt run and a half brother to Land Over Sea, who carried himself with class. I had begun tracking American Pharoah’s progeny at sales and then races, and that had to get put on hiatus too until I saw that colt run.
It is also worth noting that since the card was all for two-year-olds, each one ran without Lasix. It was also the first time I saw runners identified by microchips with a scanner run over their necks, instead of checking lip tattoos.
It was wonderful to get back to the races, to have access to something I love that is deeply ingrained in me. Even while current situations make this tricky, it also makes it more necessary as long as it can be done in a way that abides by health protocols. I know Churchill would have been hard-pressed to host a Derby and enforce these guidelines easily but as an outdoor sport it has a better chance than most events at having attendance, and I was glad the arrangements were made. People don’t need a lot of the things we once thought we did in terms of entertainment, but it is easier to endure limited activities and socializing if once in a while you can do something you deeply love that is some semblance of normality in a year that has been anything but normal and that is what Churchill allowing spectators represented. I am grateful to have had that opportunity.