Ochsner, who skipped the Derby during the height of the economic downturn, got together with four friends to kick in $175 apiece to cover the cost of using another pal’s RV. They parked near the track and spent the week in the area.
“It beats a hotel,” said the 43-year-old from St. Louis, who said he was already awash in cash from winnings at a nearby casino boat in Indiana. He planned to invest some of his casino windfall in his Derby favorite, Bodemeister.
“This is my favorite thing to do,” he said.
America’s most famous horse race spurred a holiday mood among the massive crowd that gathered to bet, drink, eat and check out the finery. Mint juleps flowed and colorful hats were plentiful. Fashions ranged from cutoffs and bikini tops to pricey suits and low-cut sun dresses.
Debbie Rankin, a 54-year-old bookkeeper from Staunton, Ill., was buying two juleps at a time to cut down on trips to the vending stand. She and a friend expected to spend up to $1,500 combined for their trip to Kentucky.
“It’s our vacation,” she said. “This is what we like to do, so we do it. We don’t care.”
Early morning rain left the grounds soggy, but they were slowly drying under overcast skies. Humidity kicked in by afternoon, and highs in the 80s were expected. By afternoon, tents had popped up throughout the sun-splashed infield.