LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The sun shined brightly on the old Kentucky track, where there was barely room to move. Amid a Derby Day record crowd of 170,513, traffic inside Churchill Downs Saturday morning was worse than it was on the gridlocked roads that led there.
Racegoers carried souvenir glasses brimming with adult beverages, and a quite a few appeared to have consumed too many too early. This is what happens when the races start at the ungodly hour of 10:30, providing the rare opportunity to get drunk and go broke by noon. Many revelers took advantage.
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Here's an exchange between two middle-aged men.
"How you feelin'?"
"Little bit of a blur."
"You had a good night?"
"I think so."
Outrageous behavior is a Derby tradition. In 1974, amid the streaking craze, a naked man shimmied up the infield's flagpole. A year later, some fool hurled a full beer can that struck Bombay Duck on the left hip as he led on the backstretch. The chart's footnotes said: "Bombay Duck quit suddenly," understandable because it was probably the first time he'd been pelted with a flying object. He finished last.
Nothing so off the wall was anticipated Saturday. In keeping with the times, selfie sticks were banned. Also on the prohibited list were drones. Well, you never know and you can't be too careful.
About 100 yards from Churchill's front gate, Derby RV City rocked all night into the dawn. For $750, cheaper than most hotels' weekend "Derby package," you could park for three nights and party amid all the comforts of a mobile home.
Most of those folks dressed informally. Not so the elite in the clubhouse and grandstand, where elegance was the norm. You'll never see so many fancily attired people in one place, and that was just the bow-tied guys. The women couldn't have been more dressed up in their elaborate hats and designer clothes. If you're into fashion shows, you couldn't beat the haute couture on display on the long lines to the ladies rooms.
Of course, there were thousands, mainly teens and twentysomethings, obsessed with texting where they were to absent friends and snapping selfies to prove it. Thousands fixated on Smartphones, a dumb move while trying to squeeze past a wall of bodies.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Stay with me. Don't let me lose you."
On Derby Day, the mantra is "Embrace chaos, because it has a hold on you." The tattoo on a young woman's back said: "Make better mistakes." Somehow, that sounded like good advice.
Yet amid all the self-indulgence and silliness, there's reverence for the 141-year-old Run for the Roses, even from a wisecracking trainer. When a foreign journalist asked Bob Baffert why the Derby is so special, he grinned and said, "Well, it's one of the few races where we actually have a blimp."
Then Baffert got serious. "The Derby has so much history and is part of American culture. To be part of that history is what makes it so exciting."