Kentucky Derby fans keep track of big race

Pat OíConnor, left, and John Hull were among the horse racing fans who watched the Kentucky Derby Saturday in the sports bar at Lava Lanes.Julia Moore

MEDFORD — Hunter S. Thompson famously described the Kentucky Derby as "decadent and depraved," but it did make for a good time for the hundreds of pony watchers who filled the bar at Lava Lanes on Saturday.

It was standing-room only at Medford's only designated off-track betting site. The lines ran deep with people willing to plunk a few bucks down in hopes of raking in at least enough to cover their bar tab.

Among them was Kentucky-born Pat O'Connor, who donned a fancy green hat with black feathers in honor of her home state's flagship race. O'Connor's father was a horse racing aficionado who wanted his daughter to marry a jockey.

"I actually got to meet (Kentucky Derby winning rider) Pat Day when I was younger," she said.

O'Connor, who lives in Talent, put her money on Goldencents, who struggled mightily before finishing in 17th place.

The Derby is almost as famous for the celebrities who attend, and in particular, the flashy hats they wear.

Many at Lava Lanes flashed their own opulent hats.

Martha Ellickson of Grants Pass proudly showed off her yellow pillbox hat bedazzled with flowers.

"You can't watch the Kentucky Derby without a fancy hat," she said.

Minutes before the race the bar sounded the tell-tale blast from the long trumpet, signaling the impending race.

The room turned quiet a moment before the pistol crack set the horses free from the gates. But the moment hooves hit open track, Lava Lanes roared to life.

A man with rolled up flyers smacked the pages on his table, nearly tipping over his beer.

A woman who put her cash on favorite Revolutionary, danced in place and she screamed "Go, go, go!" at the horse through the television.

The co-favorite Orb deep in the pack but began to dig his way through the mud for a piece of the lead down the stretch.

As the colt broke free from the scrum, those who apparently put some cash down in his favor went bonkers.

Kemra Martin was an Orb believer who cashed in some green as the horse made its way to the winner's circle.

"I think this is the fifth year I've won the Derby," Martin said. "I'm pretty good at this."

After the race, many of the horse fans filed out of the bar, leaving behind tables heavy with empty pint glasses, plates streaked with ketchup and wadded up betting tickets.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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