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The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

Best of SNO

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150th Kentucky Derby: Behind The Scenes

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Horses off to the races at Churchill Downs (Photo courtesy of staff writer Ethan Donlon)

It’s the 150th Kentucky Derby, and Louisville will host over 250,000 visitors to watch the fastest two minutes in sports.

Celebrities from across the country come to Louisville for the weekend to celebrate the biggest horse race in the U.S. In fact, the Derby is one of the biggest horse races in the world. However, few know what goes on behind the scenes to make the Run for the Roses so special each year.

Hundreds of people work tirelessly to make each aspect of the Derby perfect. Whether it be a commentator, trainer, or jockey, they all prepare for weeks leading to the derby.

Kenny Rice, an esteemed Kentucky Derby commentator for his insight on the topic, has worked at NBC for years and has covered everything related to horse racing. He has seen it all, but he comes back every year for the sheer excitement and love of the sport.

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Rice has interviewed countless jockeys, trainers, and horse owners. He even had the opportunity to speak with Bob Baffert after American Pharoah’s Derby win in 2015.

“I couldn’t have predicted a Triple Crown, but I was around him enough to know he was a special horse,” Rice commented.

Every year, Mr. Rice sees one horse rise above the rest, but most never achieve a Triple Crown. Only 13 horses in horse racing history have won a Triple Crown.

Mr. Rice has been to the Derby countless times, but one consistent moment stands out. The walkover is the quarter-mile walk, which is such a special moment for both the jockeys and the Kentucky Derby. It’s the red carpet moment, and all eyes are on them.

“You gradually see the crowd as you leave the barn area and the noise increases and the emotions rise for all concerned,” Rice recalled.

Everyone cheers the contestants on as they prepare for a short two-minute race — two minutes that could potentially decide their whole career. After months of preparation, the walkover is such a rewarding experience for everyone present.

While there is so much effort that goes into the race, it doesn’t always go as planned. Unpredicted moments occur such as horses scratching or bad starts out of the gate.

“You don’t have to have the best horse, just the best horse the first Saturday in May,” Rice said.

Rice has seen long shots win and favorites lose. There is no telling what will happen on the first Saturday in May. Whatever happens, Kenny Rice will be there reporting the outcome of the race and cementing one’s place into horse racing history.

“The Derby winner automatically secures a place in history, be it one who becomes a champion or a flash in the pan, they are Derby royalty,” Rice said.

As well as the horse, the jockey earns great fame. Jockeys prepare for months to participate in a single race. A race like the Kentucky Derby takes even more time.

John Velazquez, a three-time Derby champion with horses like Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming (2017), and Medina Spirit (2020). Velazquez is famed for his skills and was inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jack Henry and Jackson Graeter

Being a jockey is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and Mr. Velazquez has been doing it for years. Velazquez keeps coming back every year because of his own determination to continue in this great sport.

In the 150th Kentucky Derby, Mr. Velazquez is set to ride Fierceness, who is the favorite to win the race. As he prepares, Velazquez believes that they have a great chance to win and take home the roses.

This story was originally published on Xavier News on May 3, 2024.