Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Win, Place or Show - The Kentucky Derby...

Post by: Raja

First, I want to thank all of our friends and family for reading our blog. We love sharing our experiences with all of you and, and most of all, we love reading your comments and hearing what is happening with all of you as well!

So Beth and I just recently took a trip to Louisville, KY to take in one of the neatest events in all of sport – The Kentucky Derby. Neither of knew much about the Kentucky Derby before going, (I asked Beth if she thought she’d like to go and she said “Sure! What is it?”), but after reading a short article about it on a recent flight and realizing it was so close, we thought it would be a great chance to experience something new, fun, and unique.

Deciding we wanted to go was easy – who wouldn’t want to experience first hand the elegance, excitement, and tradition of “the Derby?" – but getting tickets was a whole different story. The first quick search we did for tickets provided us with a significant dose of sticker shock. Tickets, sold out from the box office almost a year in advance, were only available on the black market (through brokers or individuals) and were going for anywhere from $500 - $6000 each, with most of them obviously way out of our price range. We looked and looked and come Thursday night (the event was on Sat), we still had no tickets. Those of you who know me, know that I love to do unique and fun things, but you probably also know that I am almost obsessive about finding a good deal. While going to the Derby was something we both really wanted to do, it was hard to stomach paying double the face value (and in some cases triple for the good seats) for a day at the races. When I talked to one of my old grad school roommates Thursday night and explained my dilemma, he said “Raja, if there’s a deal out there to be had, I know you will find it.”

After some quick calls on Friday morning, I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to get as good of a deal as I wanted and I started calling around to some brokers, e-mailing ads on Craigslist, and sending messages to people on Ebay to see if I could still get us to the Derby for a reasonable amount. Surprisingly, the brokers were feeling the time crunch as much as we were and were willing to drop their prices to pretty reasonable levels, although still considerably above the face value. I figured that these were about the best deals I was going to get, and decided to pull the trigger around 11:30 Friday morning – 6 hours before we had to pack up the car and head east to L’ville.

I made the call and the broker and I, both excited to make the exchange, struck a deal – 50% over face value – that seemed like a bargain. Whew…the search was over…or so I thought. 5 mins later, I get a call telling me that “his partner” had just sold the tickets to someone else before he talked to me. I really think that someone just called and offered him a better price and so he decided to cancel our deal.

So the search continued. Around 3PM, still with no tickets, I found a listing on Craigslist for a woman who wanted to get rid of her tickets and was selling them for face value. I immediately called her thinking that, if the tickets were still available, this would be unbelievable. I called, she answered, the tickets were still available, and we setup a time to meet in L’ville to pick them up that night. Woo Hoo! Face Value! 20 mins later, I get the dreaded call. “I’m so sorry – my husband sold the tickets to someone else and I didn’t know about it.” Yeah right. Beat out by a higher bidder again, I’m sure.

At this point, I really didn’t think we were going. Beth had been e-mailing me throughout the day to inquire whether or not we had tickets, and unfortunately, I had to keep telling her we didn’t. The e-mail I sent at 3:45 was no different.

Finally, at 4:05PM, literally the 12th hour, I get a call from a guy from Ebay. He has two tickets – great seats, in a box, - and he wants to accept my offer! I’m excited, but after the last two experiences, I am obviously guarded. He agreed to send the tickets overnight to L’ville where we were staying and agreed to accept payment after we got the tickets. This actually seemed like it was going to work out.

After we got off the phone, I finished up some work and called Beth and told her to start packing when she got home. I was still waiting for the dreaded “I just sold them to someone else” call, but luckily, it never came. Around 6PM, I get a text from my new friend, with the tracking number for the tickets and we finally are all set to go.

I get home, we hurriedly pack our everything up – suits, shoes, dresses, and yes, even one really big, but very neat, hat. Finally, we load up the car and are on our way! In hindsight, and as you can see by the first part of this post, getting the tickets was almost as exciting as actually being at the races!

We drive the short 4.5 hours to L’ville and arrive around 1AM. We’re exhausted, so after talking with our gracious weekend hosts for a few minutes, head straight to bed. Saturday was going to be a big day.

Fortunately, everything went as planned Sat morning. Our tickets arrived at 9AM on the dot and we were at the historic Churchill Downs by 11AM. The grounds were beautiful. Churchill Downs recently underwent a $126 million renovation and it really showed. After taking a quick trip up to our seats to check out our view, Beth and I walked the grounds for a while, sipping our mint juleps and taking in all the sights and sounds of the Kentucky Derby. There was the commotion of the betting windows, people talking about the races, “Derby rookies (read: us)” looking and sounding confused as they tried to make sense of the Daily Race Forum and pick a winner, and, of course, all the women in their fancy dresses and hats. It was definitely a unique sight and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The rest of the day was spent watching the races with the 4 other people in our little box. There was a nice couple from Midland, TX who were there celebrating the husband's 60th birthday, as well as a ticket broker and his friend who decided they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the race this year and decided to keep these tickets for themselves. Even with all the sights and all the other races, I have to admit, the Kentucky Derby (race 10 out of 12 that day) was by far the most exciting. We had bet on Big Brown to win (Beth was adamant about betting on the favorite – those that know her won’t be a bit surprised by this risk averse behavior) and watching him charge through the field around turn three and take the lead down the back stretch was probably one of the most exciting things I have experienced. Unfortunately, the race was marred by the injury and subsequent death of Eight Bells. Fortunately, from where we were sitting, we got to see her run the race of her life and finish a spectacular second place, and were spared the sad sight of having to watch her collapse as she slowed around the first turn. That part of the race was definitely sad and the crowd definitely felt for the horse, her owner, her trainer, and everyone else that was involved.

As the race ended and the winner’s celebration commenced, the crowd gradually thinned, until there were only the die hard race fans and those like us, the people who wanted to take in every second of the Kentucky Derby experience, left by the 11th and 12th races. We bet on all the races, won some, lost some, but most importantly, had a great time.

We had our fair share of mint juleps throughout the day, laughed and ooo’d and aaah’d at the fancy hats and ensembles, and experienced all the excitement and drama of the races (and betting on them). Later that evening, Beth described the day as “probably one of the most fun single day experiences I’ve ever had.” I couldn’t agree more!

Here are some pictures from our trip .. The story just wouldn't be the same without them. :)

Add ImageThe picture above is of the outside of the track that leads us up to our seating area.

This picture is of us before we went upstairs to our seats. We have our first mint juleps of the day here.. Well, mine is behind Raja's back, but it's there! :)

These pictures above are of the people that sat in our box with us. The guy at the top is a ticket broker from San Diego, and the next guy is a friend of his. The couple standing with us in the photo here were VERY nice and it was so sweet because she'd tracked down the tickets and made the Derby arrangements for his 60th birthday. They live in Midland, TX and he's been an attorney there for a long time. He'd wanted to go to the Derby for years and years and they were just as happy as us to be there.

The picture above is of the horses racing out of the gates as they started an infield race. It's VERY exciting to see them bolt out and take off down the track. The crowd erupts immediately and everyone's yelling for their favorite horse to run faster.

And here they are racing around the 3rd turn, heading towards the finish line!

The pictures can't really do this experience justice... This was a GREAT day and definitely one of the most fun trips I've taken. There's just this energy in the track on a race day as big as this one, and you can't help but get caught up in the excitement. We're so glad we got to go!


Hershbine Family said...

Raja, you are such a great story teller and writer... I loved reading about this. This is something as a "southerner" I have really wanted to do, and it sounds like a lot of fun! I also have to say I find it funny how far you have to stand away from beth in those pictures, because of that humongous hat!! LOL! (Beth, you know I would have bought exactly the same thing! Love it!)
BTW... what exactly is a mint julep, the only place I have ever heard of them is in direct relation to the DERBY!

Beth & Raja Gupta said...


You KNOW I bought the biggest hat I could find.. I love it love it love it!

And a mint julep is kentucky bourbon, sugar, and a sprig of mint. The first one is really bad, but they get better as you go along. ;)

Hershbine Family said...

as do all alcoholic beverages with bourbon... I always like the 2nd better than the first and the third better than the second.

Mike, Lee, Evan, and Aiden said...

I love the hat. That would be the highlight of my trip..the big hats.