In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has canceled everything from classes to concerts, we are grateful for the continuity of one tradition that has been uninterrupted for the past 145 years — the Kentucky Derby.
Dating back to 1875, the Run for the Roses is the longest continually held sporting event in the country. However, this year’s version, which was postponed from May to the first Saturday in September, will be a stark contrast to years past.
Most notably missing from Saturday’s festivities will be fans in the stands. Originally, the derby, which typically draws a crowd of 155,000-plus to Churchill Downs, was intending to allow 23,000 socially distanced, masked fans to watch the Triple Crown race in person. However, those plans were scrapped due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in and near Louisville.
Known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” the derby was held during the Great Depression and two World Wars, but the 146th running will be the first time the race will be run without spectators.
Gone will be the women clad in their best derby hats sipping mint juleps, the party-packed infield and thunderous crowd roar as the horses enter the final straightaway. Yet, many traditions will continue this year.
There will still be the ceremonious “riders up” in the paddocks and the bugle call to the post — those 34 notes in the key of C that mean the next race is about 10 minutes away.
But one of the most sentimental moments will likely happen during the prerace parade when the state song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” will be played as the horses head to the starting gates. The song’s theme of returning home resonates with listeners who are able to personally relate the words to their own lives.
In a year when hard times have come “a-knocking at the door,” we are appreciative of traditions that continue. However, we will also be thinking of the more than 900 Kentuckians lost to the coronavirus.
“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home far away.”