Sprawled out in the den floor by the TV, chin in my hands, I savored Kentucky Derby coverage the first Saturday of May each year as a child, ‘tween, and teen. Mom did more than I, actually, but her enthusiasm certainly wore off on me. (She even has the sheet music to “Run for the Roses.” I can remember plunking at the piano keys while contemplating the score’s cover art as a child.)
Even Dad, who isn’t a horse enthusiast, used to get a little excited about Derby. Friday before Derby (Oaks Day—though I didn’t know that was what it was called at the time) was a paid holiday because the company’s main plants were in Kentucky at the time.
Ironically, my early memories of Derby had a horse health angle: My most memorable Derby as a television spectator was a tribute to Secretariat after he succumbed to laminitis—the archived footage of him galloping around in the mud impacted my heart, and I was simply fascinated with this horse (while I wasn't even born yet when he won the Triple Crown, I have watched the video of his Belmont victory time and time again). I climbed up on the statue of Secretariat as a 13-year-old visitor to the Kentucky Horse Park during Pony Club Nationals, then marveled at the length of his stride marked out beside the sidewalk leading to Man O War’s grave. As we traversed the board-fence-lined roads during that first trip to the Bluegrass, I declared that one day I wanted to live in this beautifully horse-saturated place.
Fast-forward to adulthood. Television consumption of Derby transitioned to in-person experience of the event in 2000. As cliché as it sounds, there is something remarkably magical about Derby Day—even Derby week—on the backside at Churchill Downs. Each Derby and Oaks favorite has a mob of press and fans around him or her, an audience captivated by the personalities of both horse and trainer. It’s a “Derby Favorites—they’re just like us!” experience, when we see them washed and sweat-scraped down, dozing at their stall door, or nickering for their feed. There’s something about horses just being horses.
[brightcove videoid="1610290913001" caption="Last year some of our colleagues at BloodHorse.com posted a video of a favorite, Hansen, rolling in a sand pit, and it garnered a staggering 31,000+ views."]
And those are just the days leading up to Derby. On Derby Day, nothing really beats experiencing the band playing "My Old Kentucky Home," watching the pageantry of the walkover, or hearing the National Anthem along with 165,000+ other people, not to mention the reported almost-15-million viewers at home. It’s lovely to see that much excitement over a field of horses.
So, Derby is coming up in a mere two weeks. Last year we brought you a story and videos (regulatory vet checks at the Derby, vet check frequency for hallmark horse races) on the responsibilities of regulatory veterinarians at Derby and other hallmark races, and we gave some behind-the-scenes footage of what it's like being a veterinarian caring for horses on Derby Day.
This year we have the opportunity to get some health questions answered for you. A few weeks ago News Editor Erica Larson and I watched some of the morning works at Keeneland to begin brainstorming on some of the questions—some basic and some more in-depth—that we have about racehorse health. We hope to bring you a little of the excitement of Derby into your home the first week of May.
What are some things you’d like to ask a veterinarian about caring for Derby horses?