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Kentucky Rain

Kentucky Derby Starting Gate 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Spotswire

Every year I go camping with the boys. Our wives and girlfriends pay us to go so they all can have a moment of peace and quiet. Some years it’s spring, other’s it’s fall that we trudge up into the Adirondacks and camp in a state park that’s closed for the season. There are seven or eight of us or so that have known each other since 5th grade in some cases. I leave this Thursday for a fall trip, but for right now, I’m thinking about the year we went in the spring. It just happened to be the first Saturday in May…

 

Like you, I’m sure Kentucky Derby Day is an exciting one. I’m informed with as much information as you can find. But in 2007, I was little bummed out because I was going to miss it all. I was going to be on an island in the middle of Putnam Pond. It’s a place where loons rule the morning and the stars rule the night. The smell of the camp fire and the glow of the cinders rose into the air. I was up early, like I always am on Kentucky Derby Day.

 

I get the papers and I finalized what I was going to do. But this year I had to get my bets in by Friday morning. And I was stirring the fire, second guessing myself. Curlin or Street Sense, I kept repeating. The camp, early in the morning, sounds like the mystical cave of bears during the wintertime. The snoring is outrageous. I smoked back then and I’m sure I lit a second one, trying to catch up from sleeping all night long. Bodies started to rise and shine as the rain began to fall. By Derby time it was pouring.

 

I was completely freaked on the inside as post time grew closer, “I wish we had a radio,” I finally chirped. And that’s when one of the boys said, “I have one.”  In the pouring rain, we stood under a huge tarp as I searched the channels. And suddenly, through the static on the AM dial I heard, “And that’s the starting lineup for the One Hundred and Thirty Third running of the Kentucky Derby.” Like fate had a hand in this or something. Does God care about the Kentucky Derby? He did that day.  I was going to listen to the Derby here in the middle of the Adirondacks. It was the best of both worlds.

 

My mother would sob like a small child at the playing of My Old Kentucky Home, and so do I.  I’m not sure why and I don’t need a year’s co-pay to a shrink to find out. It’s like the movie Rudy, if I hear anyone chant the name, I start to well up with tears. “As the sun sets bright on my old Kentucky home…”  I’m tearing up now just thinking about that moment of pageantry and song as the horses step out on the track to the strains of that old Stephen Foster tune. And 2007 was no different as the crowd sang; I started to ball as if someone killed my puppy like I always do, but this time I was under a tarp in the pouring rain and standing around with seven of my closest friends. It’s not the first time they’ve seen me cry, but the last time I cried in front of these guys was when I got beat up by Katie Bushy in the sixth grade.

 

I filled the boys in on six or seven of the 20 horses in the field. Trust me at this point in the day six horses was all they could comprehend. Of course the majority of the boys picked Imawildandcrazyguy. I had a few Lincoln’s on Curlin and I was worried about Street Sense, but on a pine filled island, I was helpless. “It is now post time,” the voice crackled through a weak signal out of Glens Falls, New York. We huddled around in the cold spring air and rain as they left the starting gate. The picture was being painted for us, “as a crush of horse’s pass under the Twin Spires for the first time”. It was as if we went back to the 1930’s or 1940’s when radio was king.

 

I remember hearing that Curlin was 14th in the opening half mile and I knew then I was doomed. But I felt better as I heard that Street Sense was nineteenth as they stormed down the backstretch. How did I know at that moment, Cousin Calvin Borel was already mounting a charge? I get chills as I think of the call of that race and I get chills when I think of that special victory. But most of all, I remember the yelling of the boys. 40 something year old men yelling in the middle of the most scenic spot you can imagine for Imawildandcrazyguy who came in fourth. Curlin rebounded to third (no help for me) and Hard Spun hung on to second as Street Sense came from 19th to win the race. The whole picture was classic.

 

I begin to write my list of things I need to bring for this year’s fall trip, but as I do, I think of that first Saturday in May when winning came second place to a special moment that you share with friends, if you’re in tune to see it. And like seeing it on the radio, you’ll see it all in the minds eyes.

 

See ya next week, sports fans -I’m going camping!

 

 

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Older Comments about Kentucky Rain...

In the most unlikely place to catch the Derby, and managed to get a few others fired up in it as well. Pretty cool story.
Love it!!
C'mon, even the music in RUDY is enough to get a person going.
"It just happened to be the first Saturday in May." ... Say it ain't so, Johnnie?!?

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