PLAINS TWP. — Hours before the 120 seconds commonly considered among the most exciting in sports, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono was flush with anticipation.
Racetrack patrons lined up by the dozens to place bets, sip mint juleps and gaze at the Southern-styled flair and fashion of the Kentucky Derby.
Among those sporting lavish outfits and soaking up the festivities Saturday were Ted and Barbara Purdy, who were making their first trip to the Downs to join in the thrill of the 142nd running of the annual race.
Abandoning their normal routine of race-day house parties, the Stanhope, New Jersey, couple got dappered up — formal attire, dressy hats, and all — and made their way along a mostly rainy Interstate 80 to the Plains Township racetrack’s annual celebration of horse racing’s premier draw.
Ted Purdy, pausing between puffs of a half-smoked cigar, didn’t mince words when it came to summarizing what makes Derby Day so special.
“It’s the Kentucky Derby,” he said.
“That’s it,” agreed Barbara Purdy. “It’s the Kentucky Derby.”
Ahead of the 6:34 p.m. post time, both eyed relative front-runners as their choices to finish first among the 20-horse field.
Barbara Purdy’s choice, chestnut colt Gun Runner, was fresh off a win at the Louisiana Derby and sported 10-1 odds. Ted Purdy, meanwhile, said he was rooting for Pennsylvania-bred Mor Spirit, who went off at 12-1 odds.
Ted Purdy, who donned a black hat with red rose trim that featured a miniature horse and jockey on top, acknowledged the Derby was a truly difficult race to predict.
“You pick the horse you like and you run with it,” he said.
Barbara Purdy backed another method.
“I go online and go by how the horse looks,” she said with a smile.
While some horse racing purists might be skeptical of how she arrived at her choice, Barbara Purdy’s selection finished third in the field behind odds-on favorite Nyquist and runner-up Exaggerator. Nyquist, who entered the day as a 2-1 favorite, pulled away down the stretch to best the field.
Though the race only lasted two minutes, the Downs was bustling with activity most of the day.
“It’s the Super Bowl of horse racing,” said track supervisor John Moyer.
Moyer said he reported to the racetrack early Saturday morning and was taking bets ever since. Most were placed on the Derby, but there was also plenty of action on two harness racing cards held at the track as part of the day’s attractions, he said.
Jennifer Starr, racing marketing manager, said preparation for the day is a year-long process.
“We want to make it not only into a betting event, but an event that has something for everyone,” she said, sporting her own Derby Day flair.
The day’s features, Starr said, included a champagne brunch, Southern-themed food trucks and of course — a hat review.
For those who didn’t show up with their own, Pittston’s Sapphire Salon & Destination Spa sold Derby Day headwear in the racetrack lobby.
“The bigger, the better,” Sapphire employee Jessica Tribbet said of the day’s top-selling hats.
With another Kentucky Derby complete, Starr said next year’s event will likely begin to be planned as soon as Sunday.
“Well, we might take one day off,” she said.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL