Today is the first Saturday of May and you know what that means . . . DERBY DAY! Perhaps not all of you are familiar with the Kentucky Derby, the first jewel of U.S. horse racing's Triple Crown. Now, I'm not a gambling man, but this day holds some special memories for me. The event is held every year on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The city bustles about weeks in advance to prepare for the horsey crowd that will descend upon the banks of the Ohio River with their newly-purchased large-brimmed hats, their mint juleps (which can only be served in sterling silver cups), and their 'nocs trained on the ponies. The "Run for the Roses" may be the main event, but it is not the only event. You got yer "Ramble for the Roses" - a five-mile walk through Louisville's South End. You got yer "Run for the Rose'" - a race in which servers from area restaurants run around a challenging obstacle course balancing six full glasses of wine. You got yer "Run for the Rodents" - a race in which lab rats run around a tiny model of the Churchill Downs track and the winner gets a wreath of Froot Loops. Great Steamboat Races, Great Balloon Races, and the spectacular Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual fireworks display in the U.S.
But none of that really mattered to me (although I did find the Run for the Rodents quite amusing and Thunder was a blast . . . ba-dump-bump). You see, the Friday before the first Saturday of May is Oaks Day. The Kentucky Oaks is also a horse race. It also attracts the millionaire set. It also awards the winning jockey a hefty sum of money and the winning horse a wreath of flowers. But where it differs from the Derby is that the Oaks is held on a Friday. That's a school day. That meant that every year, in anticipation of low student and teacher attendence and caught up in the Derby buzz, my school gave us that day as a vacation day.
And they're off!