By Dick Jerardi

It was the summer of 2006. Two years into his riding career, Josue Arce hatched an ingenious plan that would end up with him on a Grade I winner.

Arce had ridden Malibu Mint when she broke her maiden for trainer James Chapman at Calder. She was 12-1 that day and won by 5 1/4 lengths. Chapman had brought Malibu Mint to Kentucky the next year, but she didn’t run well in two Keeneland stakes and then stumbled out of the gate, losing her jockey at the start of the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on the day Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby,

So, Arce got the ride on May 27, 2006 when Malibu Mint was second by a neck at 50-1 in the Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. The trainer headed back to Florida, but Malibu Mint stayed behind and Arce was getting on her every day.

He wanted to know when she was going to run next. Kept asking and nobody would tell him. Finally, the

horse’s groom said: “Arce, I think he’s going to take her to Florida for a Grade I race.’’The groom did not know when the race was going to be run so he told Arce to look it up in the condition book. He found out the Grade I Princess Rooney was going to be run at Calder on July 15.

So he called Chapman and said if you need me (in Kentucky) from July 12 to July 16, “I won’t be here. I will be in Florida.’’

“Why?’’ Chapman asked.

“I’m going down to Miami to see my family,’’ Arce said. “Hopefully, I get one or two mounts and they see me ride again.’’

 And Chapman told him: “you might be in the right place at the right time.’’

 “Really, why?’’ Arce asked innocently.

 “I’m going to run in the Princess Rooney and if you are going to be there, you might as well ride her,’’ Chapman said.

 “You kidding me?’’ Arce replied.

The plan had worked perfectly.

Now, he just had to get from Louisville to Miami. He flew the day of the race. He wasn’t going to see his family at all. He missed his first flight and got there late.

How late?

“It was close,’’ Arce said. “I know the clerk of scales. I had him on the phone. He shouldn’t have allowed me to ride the horse. I was there so late. I was `man, I’m going to get caught in a lie because I told him I was going to be there.’ It was meant to be.’’

Indeed it was. Malibu Mint was 23-1 in the Princess Rooney. Dubai Escapade, ridden by Edgar Prado, was 1-5.

“We passed the three-eighths (pole) and I just started making my move and I remember Prado asking and I’m full of horse and I’m `oh my God, I’m going to win.’’’

In fact, Malibu Mint crushed the field, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Dubai Escapade was off the board.

It was a $500,000 race. The winner’s share was $294,000 so Arce got $29,400.

“I blew it,’’ he said.

But he had a story for the ages. Arce rode Malibu Mint a few weeks later when she was second in the Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga. Malibu Mint finished her career with seven wins and five seconds from 25 starts, with earnings of $723,829. In six starts with Arce, Malibu Mint had two wins, three seconds, a third and $366,169 in earnings. Arce never rode her again after that Saratoga race, but, in a riding career that went from 2004 to 2018 and included 393 wins, that Princess Rooney, the win and how he made it happen, will be a forever memory.

Arce told that story last Wednesday at his Parx barn where he is now a trainer, the weight he always battled, was finally too much to overcome so he made the transition to training last year.

He groomed and walked horses in Puerto Rico before moving to Miami where he became a jockey after finding a way to reduce from 130 pounds. Eventually, he worked his way to Parx where he had some success as a jockey and exercise rider over a career that included $8.8 million in earnings and a career-best 77 wins in 2008.

Arce and trainer Scott Lake had and have a very close relationship.

“Scott taught me a lot about the condition book, how to enter,’’ Arce said. “He’s just a brilliant guy, such a smart person. He knows how to take care of the horse, how to keep him sound, how to keep him happy.’’

Arce has 13 horses in his barn for three owners. That he gets on all his horses in the morning is a nice edge that so far he has parlayed into 7 wins, 13 seconds and 15 thirds from 96 starters.

He does not miss riding races. Trying to constantly lose weight just became too much. Now, he is all the way up to 140 pounds, much more reasonable for someone around 5-7 or 5-8.

Training horses requires attention to detail considering all possibilities and being ready for any opportunity. When he was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime back in 2006, Josue Arce found a quite creative way to take advantage. That kind of quick thinking will serve him quite well as a trainer.


By Dick Jerardi

In between a legendary salad in Little Italy, crab cakes at multiple locations and Preakness night steamed crabs not far from where I grew up in Baltimore, it was another fascinating, if frustrating, Preakness.

 After a wonderful Preakness Day afternoon (thankfully in Pimlico’s air conditioned Triple Crown Room) hanging with Jeff Matty, Dani Gibson Trish Bowman and California friends Bob Ike and Marc Doche (making their first visit to Pimlico), the Preakness itself taught and re-taught me several valuable lessons – owner Seth Klarman and trainer Chad Brown may be the sharpest combination in the sport,  in-race aggressiveness almost always is better than passiveness and everything you thought was true can change in an instant.

After a brilliant Kentucky Derby performance where he did everything but win the race, I thought Epicenter was a cinch in the Preakness. I had a great mental picture of how the race would be run. Early Voting and Armagnac, ridden by Jose and Irad Ortiz respectively, would be 1-2 in some order as the field hit the first turn. Epicenter would be sitting third.

A loose-on-the-lead Early Voting was my biggest concern. Early Voting had enough points to run in the Derby, but Klarman and Brown opted to pass and await the Preakness. What looked like a smart move at the time turned out even smarter when the Derby had a meltdown pace which would almost certainly have crushed Early Voting’s chances.

So Early Voting had six weeks of rest, early speed, a terrific jockey in Jose Ortiz and that great owner/trainer combination trying to repeat a pattern that had worked perfectly in 2017 with Preakness winner Cloud Computing.

Even with all that, I just thought Epicenter was faster. I always thought that Epicenter and jockey Joel Rosario very likely would be putting race pressure on Early Voting on the backstretch or at least by the far turn.

Everything changed in the first 100 yards of the race. Armagnac actually cleared the field, with Early Voting a clear second. Epicenter, inexplicably, was eighth of nine, with only the filly Secret Oath behind him.

Instead of being aggressive and fighting for position, Rosario let slower horses get ahead of him while not asking Epicenter for speed. When I saw that developing, I knew immediately Epicenter was in trouble. It got even worse when I saw the early fractions – 24.32, 47.44. Epicenter was behind slow horses in slow fractions with the only danger in my mind right off the lead after those slow fractions.

Rosario did get Epicenter a nice trip on pretty live rail, but the damage had already been done. A horse with serious speed was behind no hopers like Happy Jack and Fenwick as well as a horse with no speed, Skippylongstocking.

Anybody who bet on Epicenter could not have been pleased. Certainly, the colt’s trainer Steve Asmussen was not pleased. In fact, after Early Voting parlayed that great early position into a big second turn move that gave him a jump on any would be closers to win by 1 1/4 lengths and Epicenter had closed heroically for a second, the trainer said: “Disappointed, you know what I mean? Where he was early and they go 24 and 1. He just left him way too much to do…I was past surprised…You’ve got to leave the gates to have any position whatsoever.’’

The Pimlico surface Saturday was slower than the Churchill Downs surface on Derby Day, but not that much slower. As David Grening of “Daily Racing Form’’ pointed out, Epicenter was 6 1/2 lengths behind a 45.36 half in the Derby, 7 1/2 lengths behind a 47.44 half in the Preakness.

 It was, plain and simple, jockey error. A horse with Epicenter’s speed can’t be that far back, especially when the main competition is cruising around near the front unimpeded.

It’s certainly possible Early Voting would have fought off an early challenge from Epicenter. Clearly, Early Voting, in just his fourth lifetime start, with those connections, had to be considered capable of a third straightforward move, a move that he demonstrated with a Preakness win and a career-best 105 Beyer Figure.

But would Early Voting have run that well if Epicenter had brought the heat leaving the backstretch when the Preakness is often decided? Would Early Voting have held up if a horse with Epicenter’s talent and resolve had put that pressure on at the critical time in the race?

We will never know. What we do know is that Epicenter’s best chance was compromised by what happened early, not by what happened late.

Bottom line, Early Voting is the 2022 Preakness winner, another offspring of Gun Runner with a Grade I win, adding his name to a list that includes 2-year-old filly champion Echo Zulu, Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife, and Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba.

As for Epicenter, he is quickly becoming this year’s Hot Rod Charlie, Louisiana Derby winners that became hard-luck losers of two Triple Crown races. HRC finally got his Grade I in the Pennsylvania Derby. Hopefully, Epicenter comes to Parx in September with a Grade I by then.

As for the TC series, as Jay Privman of DRF pointed out, this will be the first time since 1954 that a healthy Derby winner did not go to the Preakness and a healthy Preakness winner won’t be going to the Belmont Stakes.

Derby winner Rich Strike is scheduled to run in the Belmont. Early Voting and Epicenter are off the Triple Crown trail, pointing to races like the Haskell, Travers and, hopefully, the Pa. Derby.

And I am left to wonder what might have happened to my Epicenter/Creative Minister exacta if the race had been run as I expected. Would that exacta still have been second and third? I will never know, but I would have liked to have found out.


By Dick Jerardi

I love the Preakness. It is my favorite race because it is in Baltimore, my hometown. It is also the first Triple Crown race I ever attended. It just happened to be 1973 when Secretariat was in the midst of setting time records for each of the Triple Crown races, records that still stand.

The last injury-free-official-at-the-time Kentucky Derby winner not to run in the Preakness was Spend a Buck in 1985. That will be updated this Saturday when 80-1 Derby winner Rich Strike does not run in the Preakness.

I absolutely understand why trainer Eric Reed and owner Rick Dawson said they will await the Belmont Stakes. Rich Strike has always had his races well spaced and they think 5 weeks rather than 2 weeks between races gives the colt an optimum opportunity to deliver his best performance.

It is good for the horse, bad for horse racing.

Last year, the second, third and fourth horses across the wire in the Derby did not run in the Preakness. Fortunately, the second (Epicenter) and fourth (Simplification) from this Derby will run in the Preakness. We are also getting the Kentucky Oaks (Secret Oath) winner  But that is a bit of an aberration.

The reality is that in the 2000s, horsemen rarely start their top stakes horses more than six or seven times a year and never run them back in two weeks, except from the Derby to the Preakness.

The Preakness deserves the best field of 3-year-olds imaginable. It rarely gets that anymore because of the two weeks. And that is unfortunate.

Traditionalists do not want to move the Preakness back to 4 weeks after the Derby because they say it would devalue any future Triple Crown winner because that horse did not do in the same time frame as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. That is a reasonable argument. I understand it and respect it.

I just think the sport has changed so much in the last 20 years, with horses racing so much less, that it makes sense to alter the sport’s marquee event to reflect those changes.

And it’s not like this has always been the Triple Crown schedule. When Sir Barton won the races in 1919 (it wasn’t called the Triple Crown until the 1930s), the Derby was May10, the Preakness May 14, the Belmont June 11. By the way, Sir Barton won the Withers (May 24) between the Preakness and Belmont. Different times.

When Gallant Fox won the Triple Crown in 1930, the Preakness was run eight days before the Derby, with the Belmont 3 weeks after that. Omaha (1935 TC winner) actually lost the Withers between the Preakness and Belmont. The Preakness was a week after the Derby, the Belmont a month after the Preakness. War Admiral (1937 TC winner) won the Derby on May 8, the Preakness May 15 and the Belmont June 5.

Citation won the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park in 1948 between the Preakness and Belmont when those races were 4 weeks apart. Whirlaway (1941 TC winner) ran 23 times before he won the Derby. Like I said, different times.

So I would advocate for the Derby on the first Saturday of May, the Preakness the first Saturday of June, the Belmont Stakes the first Saturday of July to reflect the changing times.

Do I get any sense this is going to happen? No.

But the Rich Strike connections have done the sport a service by making it, at least, a topic of discussion. It is one thing for good horses that ran well in the Derby not to run in the Preakness, but when the Derby winner does not run in the Preakness, that is a problem.

The storyline of the impossible underdog that so captured the public? Well, that just disappears. Again, not blaming the connections at all, but who didn’t want to read more about Rich Strike and Sonny Leon and see if this horse could do it again and head to New York as the most unlikely potential Triple Crown winner ever?

My first year at the “Philadelphia Daily News’’ was in 1985 which just happened to be the Year of Spend a Buck.

Why did Spend a Buck pass the Preakness?

That was a unique situation as Spend a Buck had two prep races at the new Garden State Park. Track owner Robert Brennan had promised a $2 million bonus for any horse that could win the two Garden State Derby prep races (Cherry Hill Mile, Garden State Stakes), the Ky. Derby and the $1 million Jersey Derby on Memorial Day. Owner Dennis Diaz passed on the Preakness. Spend a Buck won the Jersey Derby and his owner got a then-record $2.6 million.

The Preakness purse that year was $550,000. The winner got $423,000. Right after that, the Triple Crown tracks raised their purses and instituted a bonus program of their own, with $5 million to any horse that could sweep the Triple Crown. The bonus system no longer exists, but the bigger purses and the prestige of the Triple Crown races were enough to avoid Derby winner defections – until now.

Given that in 2023, each of the Triple Crown races will no longer be televised on the same network, this actually could be a time to consider a schedule change. NBC will retain the Derby and Preakness, but the Belmont Stakes is moving to Fox.  The Derby isn’t going anywhere. It will always be run on the first Saturday of May. Pimlico management could just make the change to June and then NYRA management would have to make a decision about the Belmont Stakes. Or nothing will change and the Preakness, a race that deserves the best possible field, won’t be getting that. And, some years, won’t even be getting the Derby winner.


By Dick Jerardi

A few minutes into our flight home Sunday, after five days in Louisville, “Let’s Go Racing’’ host Dani Gibson looked out the window and saw a race track hard by the Ohio River. It was Belterra Park (once called River Downs), the present home track of Sonny Leon. Of course.

From the time we landed in Kentucky (the Cincinnati Airport is in Northern Kentucky) Tuesday afternoon and drove the 90 minutes to Louisville until we headed back to the airport Sunday morning, it was a whirlwind, Dani going to her first Kentucky Derby, me to my 34th, but first in five years.

We met up with many of my longtime friends (and Dani’s new friends) for dinner Tuesday night at Pat’s Steaks where the lima beans and Derby Pie (pronounced Paaaah) were to die for. A field of 15 was in an upstairs room at Pat’s where they can’t use the words Derby Pie because it is trademarked. But we can and we did.

My mission for the week was to show Dani around while retracing many of the steps I had made for those oh so many years. It began early Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs and ended late Saturday night at Churchill Downs.

 All those steps and all those sights did not prepare us or anybody for an ending that, even after it was official, still seemed close to impossible.

 We watched several of the Derby and Oaks horses gallop Wednesday morning from a terrace in the grandstand. It is really an awe- inspiring scene, the panorama of the oval, the infield, the backstretch almost overpowering the senses, with the races just days away and the possibilities limitless. Saw the Japanese horse, Crown Pride, work, finishing off a final quarter so quickly that even the veteran clockers were dazzled.

 Did a quick tour of the suites where the track views are perfect and money required to get there for the races slightly beyond our budget.

 Wandered the stable area where we bumped into many of the Derby and Oaks trainers. This was the short tour, a prelude to Thursday when the area would be more crowded and the tension would be increasing, the Derby just two days away.

 Breakfast, of course, at the Waffle House

Tried to make sense of the Friday and Saturday cards that afternoon. (They made sense to some, but not, as we found out over those two days, to Dani or me). Dinner that night at Molly Malones on the eclectic Bardstown Road.

I got a text the next morning at 6:35 a.m. Before I could wonder why somebody was texting me in the middle of the night, I read the text. Dani was waiting by the car. I was there in a flash, quick enough to get us to the barn area before the Derby and Oaks horses hit the track at 7:30.

That was a glorious scene, with the rail packed, everybody craning to get a glimpse of the horses, hoping to see something that would give them a hint as to what may be about to happen.

The most fascinating part of the week for me was seeing it through a first timer’s eyes. Every experience was new and magical.

After a more extensive barn tour, we headed back to change hotels. Derby Week hotels go from reasonable early in the week to unreasonable/insane Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

No matter. We made a clean switch. I was able to use Marriott points for my room. Dani’s room was unreasonable, but not insane. That is reserved for the rooms near the track and downtown. We were not close to either, but close enough to get where we wanted to go.

I had received a text from an old Baltimore friend, also making his first Derby appearance, that he had tickets for us in “The Mansion’’ for what they call “Thurby.’’

The Mansion is at the very top of the grandstand, overlooking the finish line, with the Twin Spires well below and off to the side. It was the site of the press box from 2005 until 2012 until management realized they were giving away seats that they could sell for huge money. So, beginning in 2013, the press area was moved to the ground floor and the swells inhabited “The Mansion’’ on Oaks and Derby Days, for prices, I am told, in excess of five figures.

 But we got to pretend for a day and enjoyed the ambience, the company and the great view. Went to the paddock and trackside to watch Scott Lake run a 2-year-old. The horse did about as well as we did at the betting windows over the weekend.

 Said goodbye to “The Mansion’’ and headed for Lou Vino, a restaurant where we going to meet old friend Trish Bowman, once an information staple on LGR when she wasn’t working for trainer Kate Demasi or going to college, now in her first month as a steward at Horseshoe Indianapolis, about 90 minutes way. It was one of those nights you don’t want to end, lots of stories, solutions to racing issues that we would love to see implemented, the best food of the week.

 Slept in on Friday morning, getting ready for Oaks Day. On the way to the track, Dani found out Ethereal Road had been scratched from the Derby, opening a stall for a horse I had not even bothered to look at and frankly had never heard of. I looked at the past performances of Rich Strike for exactly five seconds and said “no chance.’’

Got to the track early afternoon, watched the races from a section in the old grandstand (not far from the media area) and cashed no tickets.

Was thrilled to see D. Wayne Lukas win the Oaks with Secret Oath, exactly 40 years after he won his first Oaks. Has to be the oldest (86) trainer to win a Grade I. Congratulated Wayne and said “see you at Parx in September.’’

Dinner with the DRF guys, Jay Privman, Mike Welsch and Dave Grening at Impellizzeri’s, the wonderful Pizza joint on Bardstown Road. You will not find three shaper people in racing and we soaked up as much knowledge as we could.

My best friend in the media business, Dana O’Neil, who arrived in town Friday afternoon, was staying in the same hotel complex and offered to ride us to the track Saturday where she had a stable area parking pass. We cruised into Churchill late morning, wandered through one tunnel, passed through the infield and then hit the second tunnel to the frontside. And our Derby Day began.

Saw some races from the grandstand seats. Dani went to the paddock and hung out with the owners of the wonderful Pennsylvania bred filly Just One Time before she ran in the $750,000 Derby City Distaff. I was up in the Jockey Club Suites talking to some high rollers who had flown in for the day from a Mississippi casino. Just One Time finished third, beaten by what I thought was a dead rail as much as the other horses.

Time, which usually seems to stand still, on Derby Day, was flying by, just like the entire week. We saw the great Jackie’s Warrior, winner of the Gallant Bob last September at Parx, crush the field in the Churchill Downs Stakes.

 All the Derby bets were in (I liked Epicenter, Dani liked Mo Donegal) and suddenly, it was time. Philly-area native Kevin Kerstein, Publicity Manager at Churchill Downs, had invited us to watch the Derby from the Turf Course, near the winner’s circle that is used just once all year, for the Derby winner. First, we stopped where the horses step off the track after the walkover and head down the tunnel to the paddock. It was something I had never seen. Chaos would not do it justice, but somehow humans and horses all got through and we were off to the grass.

 The view from the turf course is quite different. I had never been out there either. You look back at the massive grandstand, buildings rising far above the Twin Spires, people everywhere you can see, the horses finally emerging, the post parade right in front  of us, the minutes ticking down.

And then they were off, flying by us, the fastest first quarter mile in Derby history potentially setting it up for a late runner in the last quarter mile. When they went out of view, we watched the race on the big screen and then, peering down the stretch, picked up the field a few hundred yards from the finish, Epicenter in front, Zandon trying to run him down, a perfectly sensible result. Then, 100 yards from the finish line, a horse nearest the rail flashed by us and also blew by the frontrunners. Was that really No. 21, Rich Strike? And did Rich Strike just win the Derby at 80-1? It was and he did.

The second longest price in a race run 148 times had just won the second race of his career. Owner Rick Dawson has barely won any races, much less the Derby. Trainer Eric Reed had won a single graded stakes. Jockey Sonny Leon who won 20 races at Parx in 2017 and 2018, had never won a graded stakes, but he had given Rich Strike a brilliant ride, weaving his way through traffic on the far turn and then coming from nowhere at the quarter pole to in front at the wire. Before Rich Strike, Leon’s best earning horse was Forewarned for Parx-based owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis, the horse having won the Ohio Endurance the last two years at Mahoning Valley where Leon was leading rider at the recently concluded meet.

Horse racing is endlessly fascinating because you can’t script it.  When Rich Strike ran against Epicenter the day after Christmas in New Orleans, he finished fifth, 14 lengths behind Epicenter who won that race and became the 4-1 Derby favorite a bit over 4 months later.  There was nothing apparent that anything was going to change in the Derby. In fact, nothing changed for Epicenter. The colt ran like he had been running all year. Rich Strike just happened to run the race of his life on the day that mattered most and we had seen something that we would never forget, something that resonated well beyond the insular world of horse racing.

This was a story everybody could relate to, a horse claimed from his second race for $30,000, a horse put on the backwoods Derby Trail, 24th on the points list when Derby Week began, got a spot at the very last minute and then wins. Seriously.  That can’t happen, but it did.

We headed for the Derby Museum and the after party, highlighted by the wonderful movie “The Greatest Race’’ which never gets old no matter how many times you have seen it and had to be especially meaningful for a horse lover like Dani who saw it for the first time.

Bleary-eyed, we finally headed for the infield tunnels in the late night darkness, debris scattered everywhere, bottles of beer and liquor lining the tunnel walls. It was surreal, but revealing, a day like no other in America ending with a walk that felt we had entered a netherworld.

One final stop at Drake’s near the hotel for food and conversation, each of us trying very hard to remember the name of the Derby winner, falling more than succeeding, wondering how it all happened and then just thankful that we were there to see it.

We practically closed the place and then a few hours later, we were heading back to the airport, out of Kentucky into Ohio where we saw Belterra Park from the sky, the Ohio River flowing by on its way to Louisville.

It is 108 miles from Belterra Park to Churchill Downs, but on the first Saturday of May in 2022, there was just a mile and a quarter between nowhere and everywhere.


By Dick Jerardi

I was hanging out at Pimlico on a Friday afternoon in 1978 when I suddenly decided to head for the Baltimore Airport, catch a plane to Louisville and attend the Kentucky Derby the next day. No hotel, no ticket, no clue.

The only thing I knew was that Affirmed was going to win the Derby. And I wanted to be there to bet on him.

It was so long ago that I have no memory of whether I flew directly or needed a connection. I do remember sleeping in the Louisville Airport and heading for Churchill Downs very early the next morning.

Walking through some very tall and very wet grass and then some neighborhoods and, finally, after a few miles, arriving at the corner of Fourth Street and Central Ave. and immediately being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds that surrounded Churchill Downs with its iconic Twin Spires shimmering across the race track. Mostly, I remember the corn dogs that were being sold on that corner.

 I think I bought a general admission ticket. And then I waited and waited and waited. Finally, it was time to run the Derby. Alydar was favored at 6-5. Affirmed the second choice at 9-5 with 18-year-old Steve Cauthen riding. I bet my $200 to win on Affirmed.

 I had somehow gotten into the grandstand and had a great view of the race. Affirmed was always in perfect position and was well clear when he ran by me just inside the eighth pole. Then, I caught sight of Alydar, who was way back early, flying by me, running as fast as I have ever seen a horse run to this day. For an instant, I thought he might even catch Affirmed, but Affirmed was long gone. Alydar was second, a theme that would be repeated at Pimlico and Belmont Park as Affirmed went on to win one of the most memorable Triple Crowns.

 I think I took a bus downtown to celebrate. Ended up in a rooftop restaurant (might have been the Galt House Hotel that is right on the Ohio River that separates Kentucky and Indiana). Took a cab back to the airport, slept for a few hours, and flew home.

 That was Kentucky Derby No. 1. This will be Derby No. 34.

 I went back in 1984 when I was writing for a small paper in Baltimore. And then went back every year from 1987 until 2017 when I covered horse racing for the “Philadelphia Daily News.’’

 I didn’t miss the Derby in 2018 or 2019 when the weather was awful. I did not miss it in 2020 when it was run in September with almost no fans. I didn’t miss it last year when it was run with a half-full grandstand.

 But when my friend and host of “Let’s Go Racing’’ Dani Gibson said she wanted to attend the Derby, I began to think about what I actually did miss. And said, you know what, it’s time.

 So Derby No. 1 for Dani, Derby No. 1  in five years for me.

 Dinner at Pat’s Steaks (not that Pat’s Steaks, this place has real steak and tablecloths) Tuesday night with some old friends. Watch the Derby and Oaks horses train Wednesday morning from the grandstand. Hang out on the backstretch later that morning and Thursday morning. Try to separate fact from fiction when speaking with owners and trainers about their Derby horses. Wander by the barns where Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Barbaro were before they ran in the Derby.

 Maybe, hit the corner of 4th and Central again and marvel at how much everything has changed from 1978. Central Ave, two lanes I think back then, now looks like a highway. New additions tower over the Twin Spires. The Derby is one major American event that just keeps getting bigger, the demand for suites, seats, food, drink, action is insatiable.

 Hit the track Thursday afternoon for what they now call “Thurby.’’ Oaks Day on Friday and memories of Cathryn Sophia’s score in 2016, giving Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis the Oaks/Derby double. And then, just as everybody that has been there all week is starting to fade, the main event.

 On my first two Derby Days, I got to the track just after dawn. Over time, I learned that it is the longest day in sports and those who arrive too early have nothing left for the finish. So, we will get to the track at a reasonable time on Derby Day, possibly (definitely) bet some races, maybe go to the backside for the walkover, get a good spot in the grandstand media seating area, see the Derby horses parade by with “My Old Kentucky Home’’ playing.

 Then, it will be time to check out the blur that is 20 horses running to the first turn, try to make sense of what is happening on the big screen as the field rolls down the backstretch and then watch the leaders as they head to the finish line.

And then, in just two minutes, it’s over.

 But you know what. It’s never really over. No matter if it’s your first time or your 34th time, there is simply nothing like the Kentucky Derby. Can’t wait to get there.