Column: Kentucky’s racing season saddles up with prestige

By on April 11, 2011

By Josh Lipka

It’s that time of year again. It’s the time of year to enjoy what Kentucky is most proudly known for: the running of the Kentucky Derby. But if you are an avid sports lover, it’s not just the two-minute Derby race to be excited about. The entire racing season brings excitement to the state.

Horse racing in the great state of Kentucky is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and exciting sports on the planet. The Kentucky racing season kicked off on Friday, April 8 at the stunning Keeneland racetrack in Lexington, Ky. If you’ve yet to experience the Keeneland races, this is the time to go. With a much different crowd than The Derby, Keeneland does not have an infield. Rather than a wild, muddy infield, Keeneland goers have the privilege to be a part of the beauty of the racetrack. Most visitors dress to impress, no matter if they’re sitting in a multimillion dollar box or in the grandstand.

Saturday, April 16 is the running of Keeneland’s infamous Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. This race was inaugurated in 1937. Keeneland prides itself on the impressive attendance record set a year ago at this race, when the crowd totaled 33,727 on April 10, 2010. This race is considered to be preparation for The Derby. Since the first Blue Grass Stakes race, nine horses who have won the Stakes have gone on to win The Derby.

Keeneland’s final races will run on April 29. Then it’s from Lexington to Louisville, when the greatness of Derby week begins. The Kentucky Oaks, which was first inaugurated in 1875, is a three-year-old filly race. The Oaks is different from The Derby because it is strictly a female race. This day is dedicated to all the ladies and most Oaks visitors wear the color pink to celebrate the occasion. So remember, on this day, ladies first!

And finally, our last stop is the 1 and 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby, often called the most exciting two minutes in sports or the run for the roses. To qualify for The Derby, horses have to be three-year-old Thoroughbreds. Both male and female horses can race. There have only been 39 fillies to compete in The Derby, and three fillies to ever win The Derby. The last filly to win was Winning Colors, defeating the field in the 1988 Derby.

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Winning the Triple Crown is one of the toughest achievements in sports and hasn’t been accomplished since the 1978 win by Affirmed.

Betting the races is one of the best aspects of the races. But remember: It’s just a game. Play smart and don’t gamble all your money away. It would be wise to read up on the races, instead of just picking the horse with the coolest name. The horse with the most appealing name might have odds of 50-1, an unlikely winner. In the end, you never know who will win. But you’ll never find out unless you give it a try. Whether you experience Keeneland’s beauty and prestige or Churchill Downs’ history, you will be a part of the tradition and you won’t regret a minute of it. Don’t forget your mint julep and I’ll see you at the finish line.

About Michael Kennedy

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