Indiana Grand is a racetrack located just 40 minutes south east of Indianapolis. It’s just an hour and forty minutes away from the esteemed Churchill Downs. It runs both Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse races, but Saturday was focused solely on Thoroughbreds for the Indiana Derby.
As my dad and I drove up to Indiana Grand’s parking garage, it was a place almost unrecognizable to us. We had only been to the track during the week to watch some maiden and allowance races. While the parking garage was always quite full then, it was extremely packed this time around. We drove and drove and drove in circles around the parking garage, slowly making our way towards the top. We didn’t find a spot until we were at the top floor of the garage. This was something we didn’t mind, though, as we got the best view of the racetrack from up here.
We decided to skip out on taking the elevators and instead made our way down five flights of stairs to get to the OTB. Stepping through those doors was like being transported into a whole new planet. The other times I attended live racing at Indiana Grand, there were plenty of places to sit and lots of room to walk. A place I had only seen full of retired folks spending their Wednesday afternoons drinking beer and bouncing handicapping ideas off of one another was now crowded with people of all ages. There was hardly room to walk, but we weaved our way through the crowds to get in line to buy a program and pick up one of Rachel McLaughlin’s tip sheets. Once we had picked up those items, we made our way back outside to have a look at what was going on. The outdoors section of Indiana Grand was loaded with tents. More picnic tables than usual were outside and people had already placed their folding chairs up against the rail. Many people were escaping the brutally hot sun in the shadow of the building, sipping on their cold drinks to cool down. We walked around to the other side of the winners’ circle. There you could buy a cold lemonade from some girls raising money for a cheer team and pick up a free t-shirt to commemorate the Indiana Derby’s 25th Anniversary. A ton of white folding chairs lined the rail on that side and people were already crowding around the paddock in anticipation for the first race.
After getting our free t-shirts and doing a bit of looking around, we went back inside to cool off and place our first bets. As the time went by and post time for the first race drew closer and closer, the crowd got bigger and the lines to bet grew even longer.
Watching the first few races on the rail was like standing in a sauna. I envied those who had brought huge sun hats or chairs with a shade above it. Despite the heat, the races were so fun to watch. It is always heart warming to see owners, trainers, and grooms approach their winning horses with huge smiles on their faces.
Saturday not only boasted the Indiana Oaks & Derby, but also a plethora of other stakes races. Perhaps my favorite stakes race of them all was “The Mari Hulman George Memorial Stakes”. Unbridled Class, a horse I fell in love with after seeing her win at Indiana Grand back in April, was running in the race. She didn’t win, but she finished a clear second behind Mylady Curlin.
As the Oaks approached, the crowd grew thicker and thicker. Thankfully we had gotten there early enough to have a spot on the rail directly in front of the finish line. The sky turned a brilliant shade of pink and purple as the fillies made their way onto the track. It was a fitting backdrop for the blanket of pink flowers that would be placed on the back of the winning horse. You could feel the crowd tense up as the fillies loaded into the gate. As soon as the bell rung and the horses bounded out of the gate, the crowd erupted into cheers. Screams like “Come on Kim!!” and “Go 7!” could be heard from all directions. But, as they fillies made their way into the stretch, Street Band was well clear and practically flying down the racetrack. She was an easy winner of the Indiana Oaks.
Sophie Doyle, the pilot of Street Band, was the first woman to ever win the Indiana Oaks. She and Street Band paraded by the crowd on their way to the winners’ circle to the sound of cheers from the crowd. When they reached the winners’ circle, Street Band’s connections patted and kissed their filly. Sophie was also given a huge hug and lots of “congratulations” and “thank you”s. The blanket of flowers was placed among Street Band’s back and Sophie triumphantly threw some flowers into the air. It was such a sight to see.
Then, it was on to the biggest race of the night - the Indiana Derby. This was when the crowd really got intense. Everyone crowded closely together to see the three-year olds parade before the start. Two horses were here from the Kentucky Derby: Long Range Toddy and Gray Magician. They all looked absolutely stunning. My eyes were on the horse I have adored since the Risen Star - Mr. Money.
All seemed well when they loaded into the gates. Once they broke, the crowd erupted with cheers and gasped all at the same time. Eskenforit stumbled at the start, dumping jockey Julian Leparoux. But, he recovered quickly and galloped on with the rest of the horses. The outriders were unable to catch him, so he did what he was born to do - run. The crowd cheered and rooted for him, laughing and smiling huge as he showed his heart. Eskenforit stayed with the pack and as they came around the far turn, he was right there. Mr. Money was able to draw away from the field, but Eskenforit crossed the wire first. Gray Magician was second, Math Wizard was third.
Mr. Money came back towards the winners’ circle to the sound of cheers. It was his third consecutive graded stakes win and he doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Jockey Gabriel Saez had a huge smile stretched across his face as the blanket of flowers was placed across his lap. He patted Mr. Money, thanking his mount for all he has done. They paraded before the crowd, looking absolutely perfect.
All in all, the Indiana Derby was an amazing experience. The people were great, the decorations were fun, and the races were exciting. If you have yet to attend the Indiana Derby, it is an experience I highly recommend.
Indiana Grand is my home track. I love attending the week day races, even if it’s a grey day with few people willing to face the cold. But, this was a spectacle I am glad I witnessed. It was amazing to see so many people appreciating the track and the horses I have come to love. I will definitely be attending the Indiana Derby for years to come. It can only get better!
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