Friday, May 3, 2013

The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports

"And they're off!" 

It's Kentucky Derby weekend, and I'm probably paying more attention than usual. On a very cold day in January, we visited Churchill Downs in Louisville. It was one of our stops on the whirlwind tour of Kentucky, as we traveled to visit Brent in Morehead, KY, two hours away. We got our own private, behind-the-scenes tour of the grounds. Our tour guide took us into the suite where the Queen of England watched the Kentucky Derby. (I don't think that was a regular part of the tour, but the guide was cold, too.)
I'm going to have to DVR the Derby this year since we are host/hostess for a wedding for the daughter of friends. (Happy Wedding Day, Erica - Brent's birthday "twin.")

My Mom has always liked watching horse racing. I remember Saturday afternoons in the spring, watching the three races of the Triple Crown on the TV in our family room. I think horses must be in my Mom's blood. Her grandfather, Charley Neelly, was a farmer in Pratt County, but he made extra money by trading horses. He owned a total of 11 race horses during his lifetime. He also liked good driving horses. (Information from a family history written by my brother, Kent Moore.)
My Grandpa Shelby Neelly is the 2-year-old (far left) in this 1906 photo.
Racing in Louisville dates back to 1783 when races were held on Market Street in the downtown area. Churchill Downs was established after 26-year-old Col. M. Lewis Clark traveled in England and France in 1872-1873. After his return from Europe, Clark began development of his racetrack which would serve to showcase the Kentucky breeding industry. The track would eventually become known as "Churchill Downs."

We also toured the Derby museum, and I was especially interested in a display which featured a John Deere tractor.
A lot of people don't realize how much goes into really taking care of the track ... I live and die this. I live and die the weather.
Butch Lehr
Churchill Down track superintendent
While wagering and odds are beyond me, this Kansas farm wife can definitely understand the dependence on the weather. Another panel said this:
When the horses are running, the track must be watered, conditioned and properly graded so that animals don't trip on uneven ground. As soon as the weather gets warmer, preparations begin again for early March when the horses will return to the Downs. ... There are no artificial surfaces at Churchill Downs. As track superintendent Butch Lehr says, "We're kind of proud of our track."
We didn't see any racing. The top photo was a huge video screen in the museum.
There may be rain during the 139th Derby this year. And I've been thinking about the workers who will have to do all in their power to keep Verrazano, Hunch Bet, Revolutionary and 17 other horses and jockeys safe as they run for the roses. (I have a feeling that Randy's favorite horse this year will be Charming Kitten, despite odds of 40-1, because of his affinity for felines.)

Since our tour of Churchill Downs and of Keeneland Race Track at Lexington, Randy has been watching the racing channel as it's rained here this week, waiting for glimpses of places we saw and experienced. (Who knew we got the racing channel? Not me, but of course, my channel flipper found them!)
I'll probably DVR all the pre-race festivities, hoping to see some of the landmarks we toured earlier this year. And I'll be silently saluting the people behind the scenes, getting on their tractors and doing the job without fanfare or accolades or multi-million-dollar horses. They must be kindred spirits.

For the record, the Derby may be the "most exciting two minutes of sports." But it takes 3 hours of television to properly cover it. At least I can speed through the commercials. 
It's like being a concert pianist. You can't think about the hours of study and the tears, the disappointments, the frustrations. Otherwise, you would never do it. You can only think about the day that you are on the stage.
Carl Nafzger
Hall of Fame horse trainer


  1. We always watched the Triple Crown races at home, too... but because I was horse crazy! What fun once a year, at no cost... but how great your tours were!

    1. Yes. It was very interesting to see some of the behind-the-scenes of the places we see each year on TV.

  2. And their off!

  3. My Mom loves horses. She is an avid reader and studies Race Horses. There is so much History behind the breeding and training of horses. She has been to the Kentucky Horse Park twice and I think Churchill Downs too.

  4. We also visited Kentucky Horse Park. I'd like to go back on a warmer day. I also want to visit Kentucky when we can actually see why it's bluegrass country.

  5. Where in Kansas do you live? I'm a friend of Patty Bruey Tidwell's (K-State '82); my wife Sally and I live in Maysville, about 45 miles northwest of Morehead and the Ohio River is a two-minute walk from our back yard.

    I've been to the Kentucky Horse Park many times, both for work and pleasure, and I went to the 2000 Derby. You're going to the Derby today? Just stay out of the infield.

    I hope you and husband return to the Bluegrass; there are some take-your-breath-away beautiful spots.

    Finally, why do Kentuckians run around barefoot? Because we stand on holy ground.

    Ray Schaefer
    K-State '82

    Ray Schaefer

  6. We live and farm near Stafford in South Central Kansas. We are primarily wheat farmers, though we also raise alfalfa, milo, a little corn and have a cow/calf operation. (We, too, believe we live in God's country!)

    No, we didn't go to the Derby. Our son, Brent, works in the athletic department at Morehead State University, and we visited him in January. On our way there, we spent a little time in Louisville. As it happened, it was record-breaking cold at the time we visited. Since we farm, it's more difficult to get away from Kansas in the spring and summer, but we hope to make it back to Kentucky when we can see the bluegrass. It was beautiful in January, too, though!

    Thanks so much for taking time to comment! I graduated from K-State in 1979 with a degree in home economics and mass communications and my husband, Randy, graduated in 1978 with a degree in agricultural economics. EMAW!