Happy Derby Day! After the strangeness of last year, the race being run in September and all the triple crown races being run out of order, it is nice that the Derby has returned where it belongs to the first Saturday in May. There is just something about springtime that goes hand in hand with the Run for the Roses and it felt all wrong to be watching the race in the fall last year.
Since I was little, I have always loved to watch the Derby and that has only increased over the years as my husband is a big horse racing fan. We were fortunate enough to attend the Run for the Roses in person in 2015 and witnessed the win of American Pharoah, who went on to be the first triple crown winner of our lifetimes.
I always enjoy hearing the stories behind the horses and the teams who work with them. So many people’s lives and work are poured into this sport. I asked my husband what Derby winning horse has the best story in his opinion, and he started talking for several minutes straight, going through name after name, giving me the dates they won the derby, and blurbs about their stories. He told me about the 50-1 long shot, Mine That Bird, the inspirational Secretariat who has a movie about his successful triple crown run, the filly, Winning Colors who won the Derby in 1988, and how in 2011, Animal Kingdom who was 21-1, became the first horse to win the Derby having never raced on a dirt track before. But one story he went on about at length was that of the 1989 Derby winner, Sunday Silence.
The story going into the Derby in 1989 was that of a classic rivalry between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence. Easy Goer was a big chestnut horse from New York that was beating track records left and right in New York and he went into the Derby as the favorite to win. It hadn’t been an easy road to the Derby for Sunday Silence. He was initially passed over more than once in the sales ring and his breeder eventually bought him back to keep him from selling too low at one point. He almost died as a baby from a virus and when he was a two year old, he was in a bad vehicle accident when the van he was being transported in flipped over. But on that muddy day in May 1989, Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer by two and a half lengths. He went on to win the Preakness, the Breeder’s Cup Classic, and to be named the Horse of the Year.
Today, many people who don’t normally follow horse racing will tune in to watch the Derby and they will hear some of the stories of the horses running today. I do the same thing in March, when I watch March Madness after not following any teams all season. We connect to each other and the world through stories, so it’s not surprising that sports have the ability to draw people in who would not otherwise be particularly interested in a certain sport. We enjoy intriguing stories of individual players or teams overcoming great odds, stories of the underdogs and the inspirations. We as humans love stories. And our stories blend together. As we have talked about Derbies of the last few years, my husband also related the horses’ stories to our own- where we were in life and what we were doing on that day when we watched the horse win the Kentucky Derby. So as another Derby Day is upon us, I am excited to hear a few more horses’ stories today as they prepare to run their races and to have another day with loved ones to make some more Derby memories.