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The 150th Kentucky Derby was a classic

Jeff Sepesi from North Carolina holds hundred dollar bills.
Justin Hicks
Jeff Sepesi from North Carolina won a trifecta bet on a race leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

The 150th Run for the Roses gave thousands of visitors a classic experience at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

People filled the stands and stables of Churchill Downs in Louisville Saturday, celebrating a century and a half of Kentucky Derby history.

Horses hit the dirt for the first race of the day at 10:30 a.m.

“They’re in the gate. And they’re off!” an announcer crowed over the speaker system, for the first and far from the last time that day.

The early-bird crowd was pleasant and low-key, gearing up for a long, fun day at the track. The main event was still more than eight hours away.

Troy Minch and Jody Audet, dressed in a checkered purple suit and lavender dress, came from Colorado. They spent a few days doing bourbon trail tastings before the big race. It was Minch’s first Derby.

“We just decided it was a bucket list kind of thing for me, so we wanted to go,” he told LPM News.

Plus, Audet pointed out, it was the 150th Derby.

“So why not?” she said.

While visitors like Minch enjoyed their first Derby, plenty of others were seasoned pros.

Rondey Bell and two of his friends were dressed to the nines and poring over the day’s guide to the races. They’ve spent 20 years driving up from Montgomery, Alabama, to go to Derby together.

Bell said they leaned into the fashion of the event, over time. This year he wore a stylish orange, white and gray checkered suit.

“When we first came we were wearing, you know, jeans. Now we’re sort of into it,” he said. “We’re dressed up and enjoying the experience a little more.”

One of the hottest spots in Churchill Downs is always the paddock, where they show off the horses before each race. That spot has changed a lot — over the decades, but also just this year.

Churchill Downs spent $200 million to completely reimagine the paddock. And they unveiled it for the 150th Derby. So many people paused to snap a photo of themselves there, framed between the track’s famous twin spires.

Carrie and Jeff Ketterman’s themed, old-timey outfits were showstoppers, too, on Saturday. People kept asking them for a picture.

“We wanted to do a true nod to the very first Derby, so we are taking it back to May 1875,” she said.

They said they dressed as a specific couple: Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. and his wife, Mary.

Jeff and Carrie Ketterman wear old-timey, black-and-white costumes. Specifically, a fancy suit and a dress with hats. Jeff's top hat has a logo pasted on that reads: Kentucky Derby, 1875, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.
Morgan Watkins
LPM News
Jeff and Carrie Ketterman dressed in costume for the 150th Kentucky Derby.

For people who don’t know the history of the Derby, Jeff Ketterman explained why they picked this particular couple.

“Now of course, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. is responsible for the Kentucky Derby. He actually got the land from the Churchills 150 years ago,” he said.

Carrie Ketterman said this was her 27th Derby. She started bringing Jeff with her 11 years ago.

“I talked him into the hottest ticket in town,” she said. “This is the only place to be the first Saturday in May.”

They’re both locals. Carrie Ketterman has been going to the track with her family since she was a kid.

“My dad and I would come here pretty much every Sunday,” she said. “I grew up with the horses and have seen many transitions of this space over the years. And I knew we had to be here for the 150th.”

Another classic feature of the Derby was available at countless concession stands and bars throughout Churchill Downs: the mint julep.

“You can’t come to the Derby without a julep,” one server told a man walking by. He agreed, and snagged one.

One section of Churchill Downs fewer people get to see on Derby Day is the backside, where the stables are.

In the early afternoon, horses over there rested, ate hay and got baths while workers checked on them.

Some families on the backside picnicked next to the track, watching horses dash by during the latest race.

So did thousands of other people packed throughout Churchill Downs.

All counting down to the big moment of the day — a horse race with 150 years of history behind it.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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