This weekend, Churchill Downs hosted the 144th Kentucky Derby, the first jewel in the Triple Crown Series that makes its next stop at Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes and ends with the Belmont Stakes in New York.
The Derby, known as "the fastest two minutes in sports," is the longest running sporting event in the country.
The Twin Spires of the grandstand, the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home,: the gentlemen in tails and women in hats, and everyone — whether dressed "to the nines" or rocking T-shirts and "Daisy Dukes" — sipping on Mint Juleps, lets me know it's the first Saturday in May.
I'm a tried and true Baltimoron, raised on crabs and National Boh, Bawlmer O's and Colts, who treated the third Saturday in May each year as if it was Christmas Day. My first race was the 1973 Preakness, when the great Secretariat blazed the competition in each Triple Crown race.
Once I had my license, I didn't miss a Preakness until my kids began to play travel soccer and my "Maryland Holiday" turned to tryout Saturday.
My wife would drop me off before the races began and pick me up after the Preakness ended. Remember, there were no cellphones in those days so there were many days that someone was confused on where our meeting spot was supposed to be, and I'll let you guess who that was.
I've been in the grandstand for a few years but ultimately ended up in the infield — once because we wanted to be, the other when the power went out in the grandstand and with no air conditioning, no way to bet on the races, and drink mixer machines not functioning, what's the point?
I'm an infield kind of guy.
I miss the days where I would meet up with friends who got there early to stake their claim to a spot on the final turn, or our only shot at seeing a horse would be the police horse that ensured we exited the infield in a safe manner.
My oldest brother and I share a birthday and once in every several years, our birthday falls on the first Saturday in May, coinciding with the "Run for the Roses." On his 40th birthday, and my 31st, we celebrated one of those days.
With our other brother we decided that to celebrate the passing of his first 40 years, the three of us and our spouses would travel to the Bluegrass State to attend the Derby.
I was born in Kentucky and hadn't been back since our family moved before my first birthday. I looked forward to visiting my birthplace and my first house and to see what this "blue" grass was all about, and man, I was not disappointed.
Flying in to Lexington before our drive to Louisville, as we approached the runway, as far as you could see was white picket fences, beautiful horses, and yes, blue grass. We made our way to Churchill Downs' version of their infield before settling in our claimed piece of real estate where we could begin to work our way through those aforementioned Mint Juleps.
For some strange reason, a local radio station was walking through the infield and chose to interview us after finding out we shared a birthday and had flown in from Maryland to celebrate at the Derby.
When he was being interviewed a man about my age, actually EXACTLY my age, walked by and asked why they were talking to us. When I told my new friend it was our birthdays and where we had traveled from, he told us it was his birthday as well and we shared a toast.
When we exchanged names, I was glad to meet Sam Brown, who not only shared my surname, but was born on the same day and year that I was, in a hospital not far from the one where I made my debut.
This year marks 25 years since we made that trip, and I wish I could say I remember it like it was yesterday. But age, experience, and life in general have battered my brain enough that only the highlights of that weekend remain.
We never saw my new "brother" Sam Brown after that day, but the one constant we have was that day's champion, Sea Hero. Since 2011, Sea Hero has been and remains the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner.
For his 40th that year, my brother bet "big" on the 13-1 underdog who crossed the finish line over heavily favored Prairie Bayou and that horse paid off with a nice dinner for our gang.
Me, on the other hand, my couple bucks went to the house as Tossofthecoin in my "lucky" No. 11 post position came in dead last.
As the great Paul "Bear" Bryant once said, "Winning isn't everything, but it beats anything that comes in second."
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