I just returned from an extended stay in Kentucky, where I spent most days feverishly researching material at the Keeneland Library. I highly recommend the facility – the staff is most helpful and the resources are incredible.
Of course, I also managed to spend a few days at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby wearing my other hat as a photographer. Aside from a brief storm on Kentucky Oaks day that actually had officials temporarily evacuating the infield and postponing the races for about 40 minutes, the days were picture-perfect, if a bit warm for early May. And the numbers were impressive – record attendance and all-sources handle on Derby day of 165,307 and $187 million, respectively. Total attendance for the two-day Oaks and Derby weekend was another record, 277,859.
These results have Churchill Downs officials smiling, but they are also sobering in context with the rest of the year – the track is considering shortening its spring and fall racing seasons even further than it already has, creating “boutique” meets to reduce the number of unprofitable days and perhaps create more of an emphasis on the big events. But that’s a topic for another day.
This Saturday, we’ll see if Pimlico can duplicate Churchill Down’s Derby success with the Preakness. The weather forecast looks delightful, and the top finishers from the Derby are back for another round, so there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a large and enthusiastic crowd.
On the race front, remember that last year’s Derby front-runner, Shackleford, just failed to last at Churchill Downs but went on to win the shorter Preakness. We could have the same scenario this year – the spectacular front-runner Bodemeister might take it all on the front end if he didn’t lose any of his energy in Kentucky. Derby winner I’ll Have Another will have his work cut out for him.
Then it’s on to Belmont Park, where the crowd size for the Belmont Stakes is almost solely dependent on whether there is a Triple Crown on the line. This year, there’s added intrigue with all the recent controversy swirling around the New York Racing Association – which might not even exist before too long. Again, a topic for another day.
For the meantime, let’s embrace good racing, wish the competitors a safe and happy journey around the ovals, and enjoy the events. Happy Preakness week!