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'It's good to take part in Kentucky traditions': Thurby returns with pomp, circumstance missed during pandemic

While Thurby is a day for locals, out-of-towners also made the trek to the world-renowned thoroughbred racetrack.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Derby week’s day for locals was back and, for the first time since before the pandemic, the masses returned to Churchill Downs for Thurby.

"It's good to take part in Kentucky traditions," Louisvillian Felisha Short said. 

Pandemic restrictions seemed to be non-existent at the track. People waited in long lines to enter the Downs and, of course, there seemed to be constant lines at wagering windows.

“When coming to Churchill you’re expecting to donate, so anytime your not doing that right off the bat is a good day,” Brian Reinhart said.

Reinhart grew up in Louisville, but he now lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife.

He ended up winning big on the first bet he placed.

"I asked my wife’s 97-year-old grandpa, William Carolina who has a birthday Sunday, to give me a number between one and ten,” Reinhardt said. “He said number five.”

Reinhart put $20 down on horse number five, even after seeing he had the worst odds. That gamble paid off.

“He came in second,” Reinhart said. “We’re one for one on the day.”

Credit: Brian Reinhart
William Carolina (pictured above) is celebrating his birthday Sunday. He helped his granddaughter's husband, Brian Reinhart, pick his first horse to bet on at Thurby.

While Thurby is a day for locals, out-of-towners also made the trek to the world-renowned thoroughbred racetrack.

Some, like Elizabeth DiMeglio who traveled from Michigan for Thurby, were there for the first time. 

“This is so much fun,” DiMeglio said. “I tagged along with my friend it’s a great experience so far.”

Of course, it’s not Derby week without wide-brimmed hats and feathery fascinators.

Some women got crafty and made their own, but the jury is still out on if that is a cheaper or more expensive option.

“This is a DIY hat; I did it myself,” said Shannon Scott, who is from Floyd Knobbs, Indiana.

Scott and her daughter made the hat together. Scott, who said she typically spends about $300 dollars per hat when she buys them, joked with her daughter she’d be spending just as much to make it. And, it turns out, her prediction was correct.

“I did and it cost $300,” Scott said.

Scott’s friend, Tracy Jessie from Jeffersonville, said she did save money by making her Thurby hat.

She decided to repurpose old hats and piece them together to create a new masterpiece.

“It’s so expensive to buy,” Jessie said. “Why not do this if you can look as good as everybody else.”

The men also were dressed to Derby standards, with many sporting seersucker suits and bowties.

Others, however, like Louisvillian Zach Coffey who donned a green sport coat with cartoon horse and jockeys on it, opted for more attention-grabbing looks.

"I googled ridiculous derby jackets, and this was the first thing that came up so I clicked buy,” Coffey said.

Churchill Downs isn’t just known for great fashion, it’s also known for great drinks.

The iconic mint julep and crowd-favorite lily were poured countless times during the Thurby races, but many opted to avoid the bar lines and get their adult beverages from vendors like Nathan Paige who sold drinks at Thurby.

Paige, who is from St. Louis, is a professional vendor. He travels the country selling concessions at different sporting events. This was Paige’s 12th year coming to the Downs.

"They put you on a list and ask you would you rather sell mint juleps or beer,” Paige said. “Why stand in line when they can buy one of mine?”

And while Thurby was packed, seeing the third-highest turnout in its 8-year history, it’ll be nothing compared to what Louisville’s historic Churchill Downs will encounter Saturday when crowds return to watch the fastest two minutes in sports.

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