Photo: Brian Zipse
The walkover from the backstretch barns to the Churchill Downs paddock will take place approximately 1,000 times in a given year, but only one will proceed the most exciting two minutes in sports. As the ritual that every owner and trainer dreams of since their initial introduction to thoroughbred racing, it is the signal that truly begins the pure pulse pounding electrical charge that is the Kentucky Derby.
19 horses, and hundreds of their connections would make the surreal march from the backstretch chute, down the wrong way of the first turn, before finally turning into the belly of the beast. In that moment in time, there are no favorites, there are no longshots, only a living mass of human and equine moving as one united front to what they have every hope will lead to the greatest experience of their individual lives.
As many times as I’ve attended the Kentucky Derby, the walkover is a happening which I’ve never joined before. That all changed yesterday, when, after watching one of the most thrilling races of Wise Dan’s magnificent career from up close, I ventured out onto the historic racing surface. From the time I felt the Churchill Downs dirt beneath my brown dress shoes, I knew that it was something that I should have done before.
The gap in time between the victory of Wise Dan and the start to the procession was long, but it did not matter. Time moved quickly due to a strong mix of equal parts anticipation and adrenaline bubbling through my veins. It all began slowly, with my partners, Ember Marr, Bryan Brinkmeyer, and I, jockeying for our position in the parade back towards more than 160,000 screaming Derby fans.
The Kentucky Derby horses are the star of the show, but it was the crowd that awakened my goosebumps. Shifting my gaze back and forth from the equine stars just a few feet away to my right, to the indescribable enthusiasm exploding to my left, the walkover only got better the farther we went. Some were true race fans anticipating another edition of the greatest show on dirt. Some were there to be part of a one of a kind party. Some were just downright zany. No matter which, their show of passion for the walkover was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
All good things must eventually end, and so it was for my first walkover. As we turned toward the tunnel into the paddock. I took one last look at the fans in every direction, and just smiled in great appreciation of it all.
Wicked Strong looked a little nervous in front of the huge crowd at times, and then had some stretch traffic to deal with, but all in all, he ran a solid race to complete the superfecta behind California Chrome.
Candy Boy is a big, strong, good looking horse. Poor Candy Boy, though ... He had no idea what was in store for him on the first turn.
The copper coat of California Chrome glistens in the Kentucky sun. Check out the muscle tone on our newest Kentucky Derby champion.
Bryan and Brian before the walkover … Bryan is the better looking one.