It’s been called the greatest two minutes in sports, but look into the heart of any true Kentuckian and you’ll find the Kentucky Derby is so much more.
Nothing in the world can rival its decadence, its unrivaled pageantry; the rich history, the drama, the grandeur, the sheer excitement of it all.
After witnessing the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 1956, writer John Steinbeck wrote, “This Kentucky Derby, whatever it is—a race, an emotion, a turbulence, an explosion—is one of the most beautiful and violent and satisfying things I have ever experienced.”
Since 1875 this glorious event has become synonymous with all that makes this commonwealth great.
It’s the one day out of the year when all Kentuckians come together as the eyes of the world gaze upon The Bluegrass State.
The event has become mythical in its stature, the subject of countless writings, movies and works of art. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the country and across the globe visit Kentucky every Derby season to see what our state is all about.
As a young child I wondered what all the fuss was about. “It’s just a horse race,” I remember thinking to myself watching the event on television during family Derby parties.
It wasn’t until I grew older that I understood the significance of the event-why, amid all the hullabaloo, everyone became silent when “My Old Kentucky Home” was played; why people oceans away tuned their televisions to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May; why two weeks of festivities and the nation’s largest annual fireworks display were held to celebrate an event that lasts about two minutes.
If you ask me, the answer is simple: It’s Kentucky.
The feeling that makes the hearts of all Kentuckians swell with pride is the same reason why, unlike any other event of its kind, the Kentucky Derby has thrived over 137 years.
It’s our hospitality, our gentility, our smiles, our rolling fields of Golden Rod and our sense of pride that keeps people coming back.
That pride is contagious. Derby visitors experience it only once a year when they see us tear up hearing our state anthem or when we say, “Welcome to Kentucky” with a firm handshake.
Thoroughbred horses, fine bourbon, beautiful scenery and the warmth of our people are all things Derby and all things Kentucky. That’s what keeps people coming back for; for this grand idea we call Kentucky and to feel they are part of it, if only for a brief time.
Perhaps Kentucky native and writer Jesse Stuart said it best when he wrote, “Kentucky is neither southern, northern, eastern, nor western, It is the core of America. If these United States could be called a body, Kentucky can be called its heart.”
The heartbeat of Kentucky will be heard the world over through the hoof beats that will echo from Churchill Downs on Derby Day, May 7.
As Bullitt Countians we can count ourselves fortunate this historic event takes place in our own back yard. I hope you enjoy the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby and I wish you all the pride and excitement it’s sure to bring.