Derby Derby Derby!

Derby Derby Derby!

It’s pretty much all that’s running through your mind in Louisville around this time, and I was able to start Derby Week off the right way by spending all morning on the Backside.  

At the start of this school year, I took over the Museum’s annual contest Horsing Around With Art. It’s open to Louisville Metro students in grades 1-12. Not only are the students exhibited in prime Museum space and the winners given high quality art supplies, we provide three incredible prizes for our themed awards including:

  • A tour of the Backside at Churchill Downs on the Sunday that starts Derby Week
  • A tour of Hermitage Farm in Goshen, KY to see a working Thoroughbred operation firsthand
  • The Grand Prize Winner receives 6 box tickets to the Kentucky Derby  

Each is an incredible opportunity for the students to experience various areas of the Equine Industry, which has a 4 Billion dollar economic impact and generates 80,000 – 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. In addition to the awards for the winning students, the Kentucky Derby Museum also donates money to the art department of the winning student’s school, which totaled $5,900 this year.  

Bethany Wethington, a 4th grader at Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary, was chosen as the winner of our Backside Award by guest judge Linda Doane, accomplished photographer and Backside employee.  Bethany’s work personified the award’s theme to “best portray life on the Backside at Churchill Downs,” which can include any of the people, activities, equipment or animals involved in the training and care of Thoroughbreds.  

She chose to depict a farrier replacing horse shoes at dawn in front of a barn, a common scene on the Backside. Bethany’s composition, use of color and creative perspective in her painting made it a conversation starter among the judges as well as the staff at the Kentucky Derby Museum; so much talent at such a young age.  

Bright and early Sunday morning, I met Bethany and her family at the Museum for her special tour. Accompanied by tour guide extraordinaire, Mr. Barry Northern, we made our way over to the Backside to get up close and watch the Derby and Oaks horses during morning workouts.



Left: The yellow saddle towel denotes a Derby contender while a pink one designates an Oaks contender. Right: Here’s Rosie Napravnik, top jockey who holds the best place of any female in the Derby.  Rosie finished 5th last year on Mylute. She will be riding Vicar’s In Trouble in this year’s race, starting in post position number 1.  

Linda Doane joined us back there for Bethany's tour. She was out photographing workouts and wanted to meet the young artist. She saw that Bethany was wearing a Ride On Curlin pin so she took us over to his barn to get up close to the incredible athlete.  


Here’s Bethany in front of Ride On Curlin after his morning workout. His trainer, Billy Gowan, is getting ready to take his leg wraps off.  

Everyone was out that morning, since it’s the calm before the media storm. Here’s 4 time Derby winning trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, on the horse behind me watching his Thoroughbreds on the track [see top photo].  

On Tuesday morning, I met Ronnie at work super early. As you can see, the sun hasn’t even thought about coming up yet. We made our way to the Backside for his morning interviews, but first, we had to make a stop at the track kitchen- two large coffees, please.  


The media tents always set up in front of Linda’s office- WLKY, WDRB, ESPN and several others broadcasting live coverage from the Backside. It's a sea of people and camera crews.  

After a long day, Ronnie and I met the front desk staff after work to have dinner and watch the post position draw live on NBC. It's always done the Wednesday before the Derby. (It’s the same way we do it in our Odds In Everyday Life program, except they use a wooden bottle with 20 marbles and we use a red plastic one with 7 marbles for Outreach.) Interesting side note- no horses have won from post position 17 since the starting gate came into use in 1930. That being said, it’s not looking so good for Commanding Curve…  

We made our top 3 Derby picks once the positions were announced. Several were fans of Hoppertunity and California Chrome, but to everyone’s disappointment, this morning it was announced that Hoppertunity is being scratched from the Derby.  

He looked great during workouts, but you have to do what is right for the horse. Bob Baffert, his trainer, pulled him due to a bruised foot, which means that Pablo Del Monte who was sitting at #21 might be entered into the Derby this year. They’re waiting on confirmation from his owners. Which means Commanding Curve will be bumped to the 16th spot and Candy Boy will take the 17th post position- tough break.  

So as always, it’s anyone’s game, because so many factors come into play. The weather determines the track condition- fast, good, muddy, sloppy or frozen, and some horses LOVE mud. The horse’s running style- front runner, stalker or closer- and of course how the jockey handles him, dictates whether the position in the starting gate is an advantage or disadvantage. And you can speculate on the favorite, but there’s always the chance of the longshot who makes an occasional trip to the Winner’s Circle. Then, of course, you have those that choose strictly based on the horse’s name, like this girl.

So tune in Saturday to see which horse adds another chapter to Derby history. You better believe I'll be there. (And I'll be sure to update this post Sunday morning and backdate it with my Derby picks depending on Race 11's Win, Place and Show. That's pretty much the only way I'll get it right.)

Heather Hill

Heather Hill

Outreach Educator for the Kentucky Derby Museum.