AP National Writer, Louisvile, Ky.
Back at the barns, there’s muck and mire. Then there’s Walter Blum.
Hard to miss this guy, even at a Kentucky Derby filled with sharp dressers. Heck, what other exercise rider trades a mud-splattered helmet for a Dolce & Gabbana hat?
And Versace shirt. Plus Prada shades. No faded chaps for this galloping chap.
"Just trying to bring a little fashion out here," he says. "There are a couple of us. Well, actually, I might be the only one."
Bold, like the man he works for. At 25, Blum travels the horse circuit with Rick Dutrow Jr., the confident-bordering-on-cocky trainer of Derby favorite Big Brown. Blum’s dad got him started in the business—he was a Hall of Fame jockey by the same name.
The son draws the looks now. Strutting around with blue eyes, designer duds and a tan will do that.
He gladly points out his tight American Eagle jeans, tighter Under Armour pullover and black-and-white D&G print belt. Walking along, he dodges puddles of slop and piles of hay. Hey, he’s got an image to uphold, be it Churchill Downs or Miami Beach.
"I’m definitely regarded as something of a pretty boy," he says. "That’s how a lot of people around here see me."
Any problem with that, especially in a profession known for its grit?
"Nope," he says. "I like it that way."
This is my first Derby, and I’ve got a confession: The famed twin spires are a disappointment.
Not the spires themselves. They’re perfect _ exactly how I pictured from always seeing those classic, camera-on-the-ground shots of the winner crossing the finish line with the peaks looming above.
That’s the problem. They no longer tower over anything.
See, a few years ago they renovated Churchill Downs and built three decks of suites on both sides of the peaks. Problem is, they incorporated none of the charm _ it worked at Fenway Park and Lambeau Field, but not here. Hardly inspiring, so to speak.
And suffice to say, the luxury boxes don’t exactly show up in the logos of the twin spires that appear all over this place. Must be a neat piece of Photoshopping, too, because instead of defining the grandstand, they’re now sort of squeezed in.
Reminds me of being at the Final Four last month in San Antonio and asking the hotel clerk how to get to the Alamo.
"Just cut through the mall," he said, "and you’re right there."
Boy, I wish I’d made it here awhile ago.
She sashayed toward Gate B8, toting a pair of carry-ons from Neiman Marcus. The hard-shell cases were a dead giveaway where her flight was going.
Want to know who’s going to the Derby? Easy.
Just follow the hatboxes.
I’d heard that there was one sure way to tell which planes were headed to Louisville: Check the overhead luggage bins and if they were dotted with hatboxes, I was on the right flight.
Saw about a dozen on the hop over from Baltimore. That didn’t include the straw hat with a flower that a lady wore the whole way.
Got off the plane and, no surprise, there was a woman with a white hat and navy bow handing out chocolate-covered bourbon balls. She said she was a student at the University of Louisville and was working her first Derby.
"They told me there would be a lot of hats," she said. "I can’t wait to see what people wear."
Wonder if she saw the guy lining up outside the gates this morning, with a hat that featured the twin spires and a horse with wings. And it’s still two days before the race.
It’s 8:12 a.m. and already there’s a line a half-dozen deep outside the stand selling drinks near the barns. There are a couple of traditional sounds at the Derby–a trumpet calling horses to the post, "My Old Kentucky Home" wafting over the track–but there’s one even more prevalent.
The clink of glasses.
"I got this for my wife," a man said, his glass filled with whisky and topped with red rose pedals. "But if I can’t find her, I can take of it myself."
Mixing and mingling at dawn is tradition during Derby week, watching the morning workouts. Makes for a crazy scene—there’s Playboy’s Miss May, and the man dressed as a mint julep is supposed to show up soon. Hotwalkers, owners, high rollers and regular fans, they’re all milling around.
There’s a makeshift row of radio and TV booths, where stations jostle for guests. The Fox affiliate brought its own talent _ four slinky models in flowing dresses, accessorized with earrings that dangle 6 inches. They’ve got high heels to match, and struggle to stand on the torn-up turf while promoting a local salon.
A half-hour later, they’re done. Before leaving, they duck into a low-slung brick building that’s usually a recreation room for jockeys. This week, the pool tables are covered with boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and two models can’t pass up the chocolate glazed.