Team members reflect on favorite Kentucky Derby moments
By Nancy Holthus, on-air paddock analyst
Referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby is the longest continually held sporting event in America (since 1875). More than one hundred thousand race fans, new and seasoned, will congregate underneath the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky Saturday, May 6.
The Kentucky Derby is deep-rooted with tradition, from the mint juleps to the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” and the blanket of roses adorned by the winner. Everyone has their own special memory of the Run for the Roses. Everyone has that one special horse they root for and that one Derby they always remember. Team members at Indiana Grand weigh in on their favorite Kentucky Derby memory.
Director of Racing / Racing Secretary, Kevin Greely – Unbridled (1990). “Unbridled for Carl Nafzger and Mrs. Genter, that was a good one simply because of the emotion. It was really special seeing that on television. Also, a fond memory is Alysheba (1987). It was one of my first Derbies then, so that was definitely memorable. I was working at Churchill as the assistant Racing Secretary and watched the race from the placing judges’ stand. And it was fun watching American Pharoah (2015) because he looked like he could win the Triple Crown. (Greely was at Belmont Park to see him win the Belmont and earn the first Triple Crown in 37 years.)
Track Announcer, Bill Downes – Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) – I was on the rooftop at Churchill with some friends who worked there. We couldn’t hear the call, but you could see everything. The other time was California Chrome (2014) when I was the back-up announcer at Churchill. I got to call the last two races on Kentucky Derby day. Larry Collmus called the race for the track and the NBC coverage so he went into meetings right after the race ran. I watched the Derby two booths down from the track announcer’s booth. It was a great experience looking out over the track as you could literally feel the vibe build as you got closer to Derby post time.
Valet, Joe Johnson – Orb (2013) – It was my third year to work as a valet for the Kentucky Derby and I saddled Orb for trainer Shug McGaughey. The experience was awesome seeing so many people in the paddock and the crowd cheering while they were still getting saddled. Obviously he won, so I got to go to the winners circle with the horse, get in the pictures and take the saddle off a Kentucky Derby winner. I actually saddled the Kentucky Oaks winner the day before too with Princess of Sylmar.
Outrider, John Neal – Lil E. Tee (1992) – I thought the world of (trainer) Lynn Whiting and that was also (jockey) Pat Day’s first Derby win. It was like a big family back then, and we were all good friends. I was positioned on the front side by the gate and brought Pat back to unsaddle. He was beyond happy to have won the Derby, but also happy to have won it for Lynn.
*Note: Lynn Whiting passed away April 19, 2017 after battling a lengthy illness.
Starter, Steve Peterman – Lil E. Tee (1992) – I worked the starting gate during the Kentucky Derby for 25 years and handled two winners. The first was Lil E. Tee and the second was Barbaro (2006). They both have a lot of meaning to me. Lil E. Tee was Pat Day’s only Derby win, and of course the whole story of Barbaro. Being on the gate for that race is a high I’ll never experience anywhere else. At first it’s really quiet during the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” then the clapping starts, and then the cheering gets louder as they start to load. Getting that many of the best three year-olds in the country in the gate safely and timely isn’t always a simple task. But we always got the job done. Once the horses broke from the gate, the excitement was beyond compare.
Doors open early at 9 a.m. for Kentucky Derby Day with the first post at 10:30 a.m. from Churchill Downs. Guests may register for one of three $1,000 Megabet wagers on the Kentucky Derby and Indiana Grand will offer the annual Kentucky Derby Hat, Shoe and Bowtie contest before live racing begins at 6:05 p.m. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three places in each category with the top spot winning $500.
The season continues through Saturday, Oct. 28. Racing will be conducted Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 2:05 p.m. EST with Saturday racing beginning at 6:05 p.m. EST. Thursday racing will be held July 6 – Aug. 24 at 2:05 p.m. EST.