To the medley area that encompasses Kentuckiana, The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest days of the year. It doesn’t matter if Seabiscuit is your All-Time favorite movie, or if you would really rather not deal with the traffic, there’s no avoiding the festivities and commotion once April hits and the road to Derby has commenced, paving its way to the glory of the track. So, we sent JD Dotson and Grant Vance on a road trip to find out how those who work and/or live in Southern Indiana celebrate the big day. This is just a sample of how our fellow citizens are doing Derby SOIN style this year.
Craig Nance, New Albany
I am a horseracing hobbyist; not an expert or trained professional. I don’t like to give betting advice, and please don’t interpret this as such. This should be read as an uninspiring story about a young boy of 17 that placed a $12 bet that paid $2,000, and who was forever a fan of the ponies after that point. One who cannot resist the allure of the next brilliant bet and big cash (still waiting).
Admittedly, I probably lose more than I win, but I continuously come back to overanalyze the program and hold my breath while my horse gets nosed out at the finish line. I primarily play the ponies for the thrill of outsmarting the rest of the betters, but I also love the history and greatness of horse racing, the atmosphere at the track, the adrenaline of the cheering fans, power of the thoroughbreds, breaking out the seersucker and sipping on a few too many mint juleps.
I tend to dream a little too big and over play the longshots but only because this, again, is just a hobby and where is the fun in playing the chalk?
There is no better day than the first Saturday in May to dream big, overanalyze the program, and look damn good in your seersucker while cashing your first exacta for three times what it would pay on a normal Saturday. What makes the Kentucky Derby such a great day for betting is the inflated pots due to the thousands of tourists, drunk infielders, celebs, hobbyists with inflated expectations (like me), and millions of casual off-track and online bettors adding to the fat Derby Day pots. Look up pari-mutuel betting if you don’t understand how it works.
I usually spend the days leading up to the Derby watching the Derby prep races online to get a feel for the contenders (available at www.kentuckyderby.com at no cost). I don’t need to watch these to pick out the favorites, but I try to find the bridesmaid that looked like she just had a bad rehearsal (bad start or wild trip), didn’t seem to like how her dress fit (track/weather conditions), looks her best after a long day of pampering (conditioning with each race) or caught the bouquet toss (next time a bride). You can also get this information from the program, but sometimes seeing is believing.
I rarely bet the win, place or show bets, even though you can get some great odds on Derby day. I prefer the exotics and searching for the big cash. Most races consist of a large trifecta and a couple exactas to back it up. I try to take on partners when I want to bet bigger and go for the pick six or a superfecta. I prefer to use an alternative to boxing my bets when I play trifectas and superfectas, which is called a part wheel. This type of bet allows me to pick different quantities of horses to come in specific finish positions (i.e. 3,7/3,7,5/3,7,5,4,9). I will put my favorites picks on top, consider plugging others betting favorites in the place position to be safe, and oftentimes add longshots to the show position for the unknown.
My analysis of the program usually starts with looking at every horse without paying attention to odds. I look mostly at past performances and a multitude of factors, including but limited to race quality, track conditions, splits, finish, distance, speed figures, etc. Once I narrow it down to a handful, I rank them and consider other factors like jockey, trends, breeding, layoffs, track condition, etc. Then I factor in odds and look for value. I usually throw out any extreme chalk unless it seems inevitable. I land on a couple personal favorites and tailor my bets to maximize my return on those select few while giving myself some outs in case I completely miss judge the field.
Top riders usually matter but they are all (top riders) in the Derby. Good trainers help, but they all did their job to get their horse here. Breeding sometimes matters, but I just don’t have the time to follow it that closely. Grey horses have a certain mystic, but I don’t think that really matters either. Speed figures are a good basis for easy analysis, and tip sheets are useful but you need to find the right ones. When all else fails or you have had too many mint juleps, horse names might just be the best approach.
Josh Premuda, Jasper
This is my first year going (to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs). We’re renting a charter party bus. It’s like 30 bucks a person. They’re picking us up, and I want to say there’s close to 30 of us going. We’re going to get dressed up. My wife is a photographer, so I think she is going to try do some of our own Derby staging photos, before we all get too many mint juleps in us. Going to spend the day and come back, really. I want to go to the Oaks, I’ve heard that’s more fun, but I doubt we’ll go. I’m a big check-it-off my list kind of person. You have to do it one time and have a good time doing it. No $1,000 mint julep for me, though. Don’t you get a cup or something? I’d love for my bar. (Maybe if I) win big I’ll do it.
Rose Glasser, Louisville
Either the day before Derby, or an hour before Derby starts, I regret that I haven’t been doing anything for Derby, so I hurriedly find my friends and go hang out at their place. My friends have a place that’s walking distance from Churchill. My favorite time is just celebrating each other, but my favorite couple years — we’re actually a group of swing dancers — and for a couple years, we occasionally bust out, and it stops being us spectating them(passersby) and them spectating us. And, most of the time, you could hear their music going by, so it would depend on their music. The common thing is that girls would have heels in their hands walking. My friend started offering hospital booties, and it was hilarious. … He would have to convince (people) to put them on their feet.
Marsella Congleton (pictured with her husband, Keith), Corydon
We just have another couple in and – no money exchange – and we each pick a horse. We always watch it on TV, but we’ve never been. I pick my horse by the way he looks – the stout one! – and I’ve been pretty successful.
Well, I tell you what, we have people from (Jasper) that go up there (to Derby). We had a guy who owns the print shop the other year rent a limo, brought his party in here (to the Schnitzelbank Restaurant), drove up there and as soon as the Derby was over, they came back down here for dinner. We usually all work on Derby. It’s busy, busy. I have some friends from Kansas City (in Missouri) who come here and stay in our town because they don’t want to deal with the camaraderie and everything that’s going on in Louisville. You can’t get a hotel half the time. So, they stay here. They usually come the Tuesday before Derby, go up Thursday for Oaks, and stay until after Derby.
Travis Cheatham, Ferdinand
We used to go to Derby all the time. We’d get a rental van and a bunch of us would go, and then, now we just do it at the house, and we’ll put out banners and flags of horses, and just do our own bets and stuff. Just to avoid the crowd. Winning big (is my favorite part). Getting the tickets and changing your mind last second, being the winner. I’ve won a little over $200 before (on a) trifecta.
Kenneth Keller , Ferdinand
We have a Derby party at my parents’ house every five years. There’s usually about 50 people there. We do all kinds of decorations and stuff, but out thing is every year we do a stick-horse race, like a backyard derby. And the stick horse gets wreathed with roses and get some kinda prize for being the fastest runner. It’s really funny to watch people do it.
Donna Wilson, Corydon
I’m going to Derby and I usually go to Derby parties at a friend’s house. This year I’m going to Oaks and I’m going with my sisters and sisters-in-law. We’re in a box, getting a ride – dropped off and picked up – and going to a nice dinner afterwards. Everyone will have hats. Derby day, I’m going to a Derby party at my friend’s. We do fun “friends betting.” But If I’m at the track, I definitely bet at the track, and I pick the horses by their names. Our Derby party isn’t themed or anything, just standard food and, of course, Juleps.
(At Emery’s Premium Ice Cream), we have our Derby flavor, bourbon pecan pie. We’re open on Derby, so we don’t go to actually celebrate Derby, but you know we’re in (slinging some Derby Pecan Pie). It’s a bourbon cream with chocolate and pecans, so it’s very similar to a Derby pie, but with a bourbon base. I’ve been to Oaks 10 times; haven’t stepped foot in the Derby once. I’ve worked here 10 years, so I definitely haven’t been since. Boss would know if I called in, it’s just me and him.
Lee Webster, Jasper
I usually watch the Derby at home and pool bets if we have enough people. I used to go but not anymore. Now, it’s just a fun day with friends and food… I love the hats; wish I had a place to wear it.
Amanda Bennet, Selvin
I used to go to Ellis Park (in Henderson, Ky.) for the horse races, dollar beer and dollar hot dogs. That was big when (all of my friends and I) were 21. We would go around Derby, especially. But I haven’t been in five years.
Dolores Dotson, Lanesville
Yard sale day (is an annual event on Derby in Lanesville). I’ve done it almost 20 years. Has it been that long? I guess it’s been 20 years. All of Lanesville! It’s pretty big. We used to watch the Derby after and everyone would put five bucks in a jar and pick a name, but everybody is too pooped now. We’re all getting older, and we all just go home and watch it.
Tara Smith, New Albany
It’s my mom and sister’s birthday, so we typically have people over, watch the race, bet money and have a cookout with a big cake with roses. And, of course, we dance and have a great time doing so.