Attending Churchill Downs’ opening night April 24 that showcased the arts, from dance to painting to singing, what a director of one arts program mentioned in between races struck me as emblematic of the evening. She mentioned how they wanted to get the arts back in front of people, as something they could attend and support with that attendance. A friend and I had seats near a section of the tote board that said “Kentucky Derby” at the top of it. I wondered initially why that ended up being the photo op spot for attendees the whole night, often when no horses were on the track, until I realized they likely were wanting the “Kentucky Derby” in the background of their photos. What stood out to me related to what the art director mentioned as I watched the people pose for photos was that it imparted a sense of being glad to get back to a bit of normal life and go to events after a long stretch of them being off-limits, much as I felt when I got to get back to Keeneland races early this month.

We came back the next day for the designated training time for Derby and Oaks horses. Derby week restrictions were in effect beginning opening night regarding what items could be brought into the track, and they extended to the morning training, although it was not featuring racing. It was fortuitous that it worked out to attend the morning works, as I originally booked a tour through the Derby Museum which they canceled as they weren’t open that early on Sundays and were not sure if free attendance would be allowed as in pre-COVID times. Just never know what the new protocols might be as these events become possible to attend again if it requires some form of reducing number of people present. But they did announce the public would be allowed to attend and since that is my only chance to see the Derby horses live this year (not yet ready to be around a crowd of Derby attendees, though it is more limited than in a normal year) so I was happy about that. Having Derby week restrictions in effect already meant I was not allowed to bring my better camera with its detachable lens even into morning training. So the photos here are phone quality but they still are a sense of the morning.

After the previous night’s rain, the morning dawned a bit hazy until the sun was able to burst through the clouds and dissipate that a bit.

Given the weather may have been iffy, quite a few of the contenders put in their final works the day before, and that meant only a handful of Derby horses made appearances during and right after the designated training time for them. The bulk of them during that time were, then, Oaks horses.

Known Agenda was the first to make an appearance, followed shortly after by Malathaat. She, Clariere, and Pauline’s Pearl impressed me most among the Oaks contenders I saw that morning. But all of the horses have a draw, as athletes in their prime, in the peace of a morning at the track.

During Clariere’s gallop, a small animal came across her path near the top of the stretch. Given my vantage point well past the finish line, I couldn’t tell what it was but it was an uncommon occurence.

Later, the same animal made another foray onto the track as Medina Spirit galloped its way, and they even had to dodge it before turning around to begin the gallop. It wasn’t ideal to have even that small obstacle in the way, but a wave of levity swept through the crowd at the unexpected accompaniment to the training session by what was an opposum.

I had also hoped to see Monomoy Girl, who had shipped to Churchill Downs shortly after her Apple Blossom run, and she had made an appearance over the Churchill surface two days before. There was a horse that strongly seemed to resemble her that galloped by the grandstand twice, yet I only had the profile to go by as that horse never turned his or her face my way. Just as with being eager to buy into the lease offering for her, I was eager to see her for the first time since buying in and after attendance at all her races last year was not possible. The horse I thought was likely her was too difficult to definitively identify without ever getting a look at his or her face, but all I can say is MyRacehorse later sent out an update she did gallop this morning at Churchill, and the horse I thought was her had the right saddlecloth and seemed to have the right build to match Monomoy Girl’s. So while I don’t know for sure that was her, there’s a good chance that was. So my Derby week goals of getting more photos of everything related to Authentic’s Derby win that will give way soon to a new Derby winner and seeing the Oaks and Derby contenders train and probably even seeing Monomoy Girl were all achieved. I will still tune into the race from home, but I look forward to how it all unfolds and next year being more aligned with Derby attendance being possible. We’re getting closer to not having to curtail much of what we do and it makes any other restrictions still in place a little easier.

Somewhat in that vein, given attendance will be greatly restricted from usual Derby crowd size, I noted that there seemed to be more of a push to consider 2022 Derby tickets, when there should be less or perhaps no restrictions. And it was not just because the most recent Derby was only a few days away as I saw emails about tickets still being available, at least for general admission, which also was being restricted.

Here’s to a good Derby and Oaks and safe trip for all, and it will be nice to see a bit of normality returning in crowds being there!