Strange times at Derby

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After 35 races, Elizabethtown man becomes infield ‘board member’

By Kelly Richardson



ELIZABETHTOWN — When Russell Strange was a senior in high school, he told his baseball coach that he would have to miss an upcoming game because he was sick.

But his coach later saw a newspaper picture of him in the infield at the Kentucky Derby on the same weekend he had allegedly fallen ill, his story didn't hold up so well.

Strange didn't play baseball any more after that. But he kept going to the Derby. Saturday's Derby will mark his 36th trip.

Strange parlayed his extensive Derby history into a video contest for the famous horse race, one in which eight people were selected to serve as "board members" of the infield, along with one "Chief Party Officer." Strange was selected as a board member, where he will serve Saturday in a "boardroom" suite in the infield.

Strange's trips to the Derby began as a teenager when he had been taken out of school to travel to Europe. But it being Derby weekend, Strange talked his parents into heading to Churchill Downs before embarking on their trip abroad.

After gracing the front page of The Courier-Journal and turning in his uniform, Strange said he tried to repeat his newspaper appearance.

"After that, I tried to get noticed and it never seemed to work," he said.

Strange said he thinks his time in the boardroom will be minimal, since he only can bring three others in, and several others are attending the race with him. This will be the first Derby for his daughter, Emily, who helped him put together his video.

"I wouldn't have been able to do it without her," he said.

He estimates he's brought about 200 different people with him over the years. He prepares food for everyone the day before and directs anyone he can to use his special route home to avoid the traffic. He can get home in an hour.

"I think I've been a good ambassador for Churchill Downs and the Derby and all that," he said.

Strange seems to be dealing with the fact that he's not Chief Party Officer of the infield, but did share one tidbit about the winner — Strange has attended more than twice as many Derbys as the winner.

Kelly Richardson can be reached at (270) 505-1747.