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Phooey. You bet the third choice in the race and get back six bucks if he makes it. Then I noticed Chateaugay: 9 to 1. I couldn't even pronounce the name but I bet him. Braulio Baeza was the jockey, and what the hell; there was no point in going broke on a 6 to 5 in my first Kentucky Derby.
We walked past the end of the clubhouse to the turn. Larry spotted some cameramen on top of a green wooden platform. We were desperate for someplace to watch the race. That is the only trouble with Churchill Downs on Derby Day. It is almost impossible to see a horse. We worked our way through the crowd. At the base of the platform we stepped past a family that was having a picnic and listening to a baseball game. The platform was about 10 feet high. We climbed the ladder.
"Can we watch the race from here?" Larry said.
"Sorry, there's no room."
"How about right here, from the ladder?"
"Yeah, that's all right as long as you don't shake it."
So we stood for 45 minutes, holding the rungs of the ladder. By twisting and bending we could look under the platform and see the track. It was very far away.
After we had stood for a long time on the ladder we heard The Star-Spangled Banner. The sky still was perfectly clear. The sun, the first hoi sun in eight months, now leaned farther to the west. The afternoon was made of crystal. I did not want ever to be old. Looking to the infield, we could see shirtless bodies prone on the grass, the beer and the heat having beat them. The boxes far above us, strung out to our left, were filled with money and color.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the track announcer said—and for the first time the great crowd was quiet and his voice could be heard—"the horses are entering the track for the 89th running of the Kentucky Derby."
And they came. Very slowly and with dignity. Up the ramp and onto the freshly raked light brown dirt. The band played the song, and the 90,000 people, silent through the anthem, began to sing: