My Kentucky Derby Experience
By: Shannel Cacho
The Kentucky Derby is known as the “fastest two minutes in sports”. It is arguably the most anticipated horse race in the United States every year, as long as there isn’t a triple crown hopeful because then it is the Belmont. This year I was fortunate enough to attend the 145th Kentucky Derby as a member of the media with HRRN. I had been to the Derby once prior to this one, and the Derby that I attended was the 140th Kentucky Derby with my Dad, in which California Chrome was the winner that year. That Derby will always hold a special place in my heart for a few reasons, one being the fact that I got to experience it with my Dad who got me into horse racing and who I religiously watch/talk to him about the triple crown races along with any other major race. The other reason was the fact that the Kentucky Derby was actually the first horse race that I ever attended. The Derby has always given me chills as the horses round the stretch, and I am usually at the edge of whatever I am sitting on or standing up in anxious anticipation as the horses thunder down the stretch. Being there in person gave me such an adrenaline rush and a special feeling that I didn’t think that it could be duplicated. However that magical feeling that I got watching California Chrome cross the wire in the 140th Kentucky Derby, was almost the exact same feeling that I got yesterday being a part of the Oaks. That feeling made me eager to get to be able to replicate that for the Derby.
Similar to the Oaks yesterday, I decided to participate in the walkover to get pictures of my colleagues doing the interviews during the walkover. The only difference is that I had my cowboy boots on and not my heels, and thank goodness that I did. As we were walking to the Lukas Gap to wait for the walkover to start, it had started to rain just a little bit harder than it had been for the last couple of hours, by the time we were stopped and waiting at the gap it had started to rain a lot harder and the wind picked up. Once the walkover started my dress was completely soaked, despite me wearing my rain jacket, and I was starting to feel a little cold. However even though my boss told me many times that I didn’t have to be there and could go up to the booth, there was no way that I was going to miss experiencing the Derby this way. During the walkover, I did my best to take pictures of our interviews as we made our way down the track and through the tunnel into the paddock.
My process for the Derby while I was in the paddock was a bit different than yesterday in that I stood on the “backside” of the inner paddock oval in order to get a better view of the horses as they walked past all of us. I did that strategically so that I wouldn’t have to worry about people trying to step in front of me and quite frankly I didn’t have to deal with much of a crowd standing back there. My goal while in the paddock was to get a (good) picture of every single horse in the race when they walked by, and to also try and get a picture of them with their jockey if possible. I know that I definitely got a picture of every horse as they walked by, but once the jockeys were on other camera crews started getting in the way. Once the jockeys were on and they started to file through the tunnel, I jumped behind them and made my way through the massive amounts of people and onto the track.
By the time I managed to slip through all the people and onto the track the post parade was almost finished, so I didn’t get to see that or get pictures of it but I heard the announcements being made. At this point I was eager with anticipation to get the horses loaded and to also be back upstairs where it was a bit warmer and where the wind couldn’t blow through my soaked dress. Just a few minutes later the horses started to load into the gate, and I was trying to strategically plan how I was going to get my pictures of them bursting through the gate without getting in trouble for being too far forward. I had to accomplish this while also trying not to get blocked by all the people who were on the track. Security asked us all to push back close to the fence several times, so I pushed back to the border of where they thought was acceptable while practically kneeling on the sloppy track and leaning as far forward as possible in order to get a clear view. Then I hear the words that shot another rush of adrenaline through me, and that was Travis Stone saying “They’re all in the gate for the 145th Kentucky Derby” and the just seconds later hearing the gates open and see them all rush out. I was once again watching through my camera lense and praying that I was getting some good shots. The horses flew past us, and once they were past us we were all attentively watching the TV until they got near the stretch. Once I saw them rounding that last corner I got chills (not because I was wet and cold) and again watched through the lens of my camera as history was being made. As the horses ran in front of me I continued to take pictures and then swiftly turned my attention to the TV to watch the rest of the race and see who our new winner would be.
The winner for the 145th Kentucky Derby was number 7 Maximum Security, or so the world thought as he crossed the wire until we learned that those results were unofficial due to a rider’s objection. The crowd was still cheering and Maximum Security’s connections were rushing onto the track in enthusiasm, and I followed my colleagues as they interviewed his connections and also number 20 Country House’s connections because he came in second. After we were finished with our interviews we were all standing around waiting to hear the results of the objection, while basking in all the excitement. They were showing some replays on the TV, but due to my position on the track and all of the people who were now on it I was unable to see the replays. Instead I watched in sympathy as Maximum Security calmly walked full tacked up in circles with the pony, while an untacked Country House did the same much further down away from all the crowd. After about twenty minutes Travis Stone made the announcement that Maximum Security had been disqualified to the 17th position and that Country House was our new winner, followed by Code of Honor in second, and Tacitus in third. The crowd went absolutely wild; there was a lot of booing as that announcement was made and the overall atmosphere of the track made a weird shift. Quite frankly, it made me feel really bad for Bill Mott who just won his first Derby, but in a manner that no on ever expected. I of course felt bad for Jason Servis and all of Maximum Security’s connections because they thought they won their first Derby and then they got told that they hadn’t, that definitely had to sting, but after finally being able to see why he was disqualified I believe it was the right call. The track became very chaotic as Country House’s connections were now rushing onto the track overcome with joy and were now being interviewed. At the same time Maximum Security’s connections were trying to make their way out of the Winner’s Circle. After we got our interviews done and walked through the paddock to see Country House’s name being put up as this years winner of the Derby, we all walked back up to our booth to pack up our equipment and talk about the historic Derby that we had just witnessed. This Derby made history and it is one that over a week later is still being talked about, and I am sure will be discussed for a while. Although this Derby didn’t turn out how I expected, it was still an incredible experience and I cannot wait for the Preakness.