No matter how you do Derby, chances are that a little of the magic will be woven into the fabric of your family history. As Jean finds when she interviews her grown sons: Derby memories are family memories.

By Jean West  |  Photo by Kylene White

When I first moved to Louisville from Louisiana, many people I met were quick to tell me I would love it here because we have the Kentucky Derby, which is like Mardi Gras. Both are similar, because Mardi Gras is another longtime tradition that our city celebrates for two weeks. The city shuts down during the last week so everyone can participate in the festivities.   

But unlike Mardi Gras, Derby has a decidedly more family-friendly feel. While I have experienced this event as a member of the media since Derby 111, my sons have their own perspectives as people who have experienced it.   

I thought it would be interesting to interview them to discover how this epic event impacted their childhood memories. Joe, who is 33, and Mark, who is 29, both left Louisville for college and grad school. But both agree that the Kentucky Derby remains part of their DNA. 

Joe:  “It really is just kind of a part of your life, growing up. In elementary school, we had our own Pegasus Parade to Tyler Park where we made our own floats. I remember going to Derby parties from a very young age.” 

Mark: “I think the Pegasus Parade is the first thing I remember about the Derby festivities. I also remember not understanding what the heck a Pegasus was. Other early memories include staying with the media for Thunder and perhaps not fully appreciating what an amazing view we had, but definitely remembering the several-hours-long car ride home.”  

Joe: “I loved going to Thunder because we got to watch it from the WHAS -TV area and the anchors’ kids got to stand at the news desk and get the best view. I also loved the steamboat race, though I always rooted for the Delta Queen because it was the one mom rode.” 

Mark: “To be honest, the 2-minute horse race was probably the least interesting part to me. I never understood where the horses came from, who owned or rode them, or why any of it mattered. The 2-week celebration was far more engaging to me. It really felt like a way for all of Louisville to come together for something positive. What group was going to be a part of the bed races? Or which of my friend’s older brothers was going to be in the mini-marathon? Who has the sneakiest view for Thunder? That is the stuff I cared about.” 

Joe: “It became a thing to remind me of home. In California, I’d always try to find the one bar showing Derby and in New York, I have a Derby party every year, and plan to forever.” 

Mark: “Having moved away from the state, the only way I can still engage with the Derby is through the race. Even if I don’t care about who wins – the horse with the best name gets my bet every time – it’s still fun to have as background during a party!”

Read Jean West’s Modern Family column about PMS Relief — for the Whole Family.