She turned off the TV. She just walked over and punched the power button. I stood there stunned. The year was 1980 and I was in north eastern Ohio, standing in the family room of my date’s home, getting ready for a junior prom dance.
Sharon and I met several weeks before, when she visited Amy, her best friend whose family moved to our area the year before. She and I hit it off and when Amy made the decision to return to her former stomping grounds to attend the dance with an old flame, Sharon invited me to be her date. I thought for all of a fraction of a second before saying yes.
We arrived the day before and I bunked with Norm, Amy’s boyfriend. We had a great time leading up to the dance: from ambushing the girls with water balloons while washing the car, to watching Norm super glue his thumb to the shower (it broke and he was trying to fix it before his dad found out) the four of us got along better than I could have hoped.
Then it happened. An hour or so before leaving for the dance, we were all dressed and ready to go. I practically glowed in my solid white tux. Seriously. The thing seemed to have a light of it’s own. The four of us assembled in the family room so Sharon’s dad could take our picture, but there was a snag. Back home it was Derby day and the race was just getting ready to start. Her family tuned the TV to the local channel carrying the Derby so I could watch the the “greatest two minutes in sports.”
The four of us were standing together while her father took several pictures, but during one I was leaning sideways, as they were loading the horses into the gate. My horse, Genuine Risk, was trying to become only the second filly to win the race and I actually felt nervous.
Sharon, seeing me paying more attention to the race then the photo op, walked over and turned the TV off. I walked back over and turned it on. She looked at me, hands on hips, and said, “What’s the big deal, it’s only a race.”
Her dad, laughing, said, “Honey, he’s from Kentucky. It’s not a race, it’s the race.”
She asked, “And just how long will this take?”
I said, “Two minutes, tops.”
We all watched as Genuine Risk ran the race of her life and beat down the boys to win the Run for the Roses. I don’t remember if I yelled the whole time, but I’m sure I did. With the race over, I turned the TV off and we went back to the picture taking.
We all had a fantastic time at the dance and I still remember the night fondly. But it just goes to show you that we in the Bluegrass State view the Kentucky Derby much differently than other people around the country. The race which takes place on the first Saturday in May at the home of the Twin Spires, Churchill Downs, is a source of state pride.
So please, if you’re hosting a guest from Kentucky tomorrow and it’s around 5:30 p.m., don’t turn off the TV. Give it a couple of minutes. Life will be much easier if you do.