My First Kentucky Derby

TwinSpires Staff

April 20th, 2015

This week, we'll be strolling down memory lane to revisit several Kentucky Derbies that hold special personal meaning for us. Our inaugural "team blog" fittingly looks back on our first Derby memories.

James Scully: I remember watching the Kentucky Derby on tv in the late 1970s -- Seattle Slew, Affirmed/Alydar and Spectacular Bid were such huge stars at the time – but I attended for the first time in 1981. My parents took me and I remember asking if I could make two bets, $10 to win on Pleasant Colony (my top choice) and $5 to win on Well Decorated (my first stab at value at 65-1). I couldn’t find Pleasant Colony during the early stages, he was so far back among the 21 horses, but it was easy to pick up the strapping dark bay colt on the far turn as he came rallying boldly into contention and powered his way to the lead by midstretch. I pocketed a $45 return on the 7-2 choice (parents didn’t subtract the $15 investment) and will never forget the thrill of victory.

Kellie Reilly: It was the morning of May 2, 1981. My grandma, newspaper in hand, suggested that I might be interested in watching the Kentucky Derby on television that afternoon -- a logical proposal for a nine-year-old who had already evinced a general interest in horses. Being completely unaware of the prep races or resumes of any of the runners, I had literally no thought of trying to pick the winner, or even imagining to root for one. But as I looked at the horses in the post parade, for some mysterious reason, I formed an attachment to Pleasant Colony. Did I notice his endearingly floppy ears? No. They didn't show up too well that far away on the ancient television set, and I wouldn't have been clever enough to observe their floppiness. Was it a subliminal effect, with a name redolent of early American history? Possibly. Expecting nothing to come of it, I wasn't on the edge of my seat in suspense. That changed when Pleasant Colony charged from far back to take command. Suddenly I cared an awful lot. He wasn't safely home yet, though. Here came Woodchopper, gaining ground fast and late! Where was the finish line? How much longer did Pleasant Colony have to go? Please don't lose now! Relief and joy -- he was a lot closer to the finish than I realized. On to the Preakness! My grandma wouldn't have to tell me when to watch again.


Vance Hanson: My father insists I accompanied him to Canterbury Downs to watch the simulcast of the 1986 Kentucky Derby. Besides picking Groovy, who I thought had a groovy name but, as it turned out, little aptitude beyond seven furlongs, I have no memories of the day.

Things were different in 1987. I had spent the entire winter and spring absorbing as much as I could about the sport (or as much as my 10-year-old brain could process), and watched virtually every major Derby prep. The biggest questions I had going into that Derby: Was the regally-bred Capote, who had beaten many of the major Derby contenders in the Breeders' Cup, really as bad as his runs in the Gotham and Wood Memorial suggested? Was Demons Begone, the hot favorite after his romp in the Arkansas Derby, really that good after being trounced in the Breeders' Cup?

The answers were yes and no. Capote was eased after what trainer D. Wayne Lukas later termed the worst training job of his career, pressing onwards with the obviously out-of-form colt. Demons Begone was pulled up down the backside after a bleeding episode. Neither won another race of significance.

Alysheba, whom I had watched eke out a win he was disqualified from in the Blue Grass nine days before the Derby, hadn't really impressed this newbie beforehand. However, it was hard not to be at the conclusion of the Derby after he avoided two near-catastrophic clipping of heels with Bet Twice in upper stretch to win.

Thus began one of racing's last great rivalries, one which encompassed nine races over two seasons and provided a budding racing fan in Minnesota memories greater and more fondly remembered than anything that occurred at his neighborhood elementary school.