I moved to Louisville from Central Indiana a little over four years ago. I came down at the end of April so I was immediately introduced to a holiday known only to Kentuckians…Oaks Day. My first week in the plant I was hammered by employees with the same question: “Are we working Oaks Day?” My response? “What the Hell is Oaks Day?” Never heard of it. Well, it didn’t take long for me to understand that in Kentucky, or at least in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is a week long celebration, with Oaks Day being almost as important as the Derby itself.
I had to do a little digging to understand what Oaks Day is all about. What I found out is that it was first established in 1875…did you get that? 1875 and it is still going on. That in itself is pretty impressive. In fact, I discovered that the Derby and Oaks are the oldest continuously running sports events in American history. Last year over 120,000 people came to the track on Oaks Day. I don’t know anything about horse racing but, technically, Oaks is a race for three year old fillies. What the locals tell me is that Oaks Day is “their day.” What I have ascertained from reading between the lines is that Oaks Day is one hell of a party that continues till well past the end of the “fastest 2 minutes in sports.”
Working for a large corporation that owns its own suite, I have been fortunate enough to visit the track and watch a few races, however, I’ve never been to Derby. I hope to rectify that in the some day. I know my wife wants to go, if nothing more than to just have the opportunity to dress up and wear a Derby hat! Heck, she bought a hat this year and we aren’t even going!
I was born and raised 110 miles north of here, in Bloomington, Indiana. Just a few miles north of that sits the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the “greatest spectacle in racing.” When I was a kid, growing up in the 60s and 70s, the Indy 500 was a pretty big deal. Everybody knew the names of the drivers: Al and Bobby Unser, A. J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones. Some of my family members went to the race every year. Although I didn’t go, Dad and I always listened to it on the radio. May was a big month and race day was a big deal. However, over time, the glory seemed to fade from that event. I can’t even pronounce the name of the drivers who win that race these days, let alone name one of them.
I’ve got to hand it to the folks here in the town I now call home; they know how to honor a tradition. One of my co-w0rkers told me yesterday that Derby week is his favorite year of the week. This weekend, Louisville, Kentucky is buzzing like the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and I’ve got to say it’s kind of cool that the city has held fast to the excitement for so long.
I don’t normally get the opportunity to write a blog post on a Friday morning, but today is an exception…It’s Oaks Day, the city has shut down and the Glory Days are alive and well!