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Before the first Saturday in May

As Kentucky Derby contender Medal Count gets his bath, Kentucky Oaks hopeful Rosalind receives the same two barns over. A scrum of media gathers around Medal Count's people to ask questions about his past and his future, while from a distance the smell of garlic unexpectedly wafts through the air.

Track ponies stand side by side, nibbling on each other's manes, keeping a close eye on all of the unusual activity in their usually calm world, while the more hot-blooded racehorses whom they escort to-and-fro roll their eyes in confusion at the interruption to their day-to-day lives.

In the week leading up to the Run for the Roses, this is a scene that is replayed in all of the barns nestled behind Churchill Downs.

Most people will never get to take part in the madness that is the backside of the track during that time, but many have been involved with planning a wedding. The people, the stress, the expectation levels -- it is kind of like that event, except in this case no one is quite sure who the groom is going to be until Saturday evening.

The Derby is more than a horse race; it is an event. Both the sport and the social angles are covered at length, leading to an interesting mix of people and motivations within the barn area in the mornings.

Watching a woman dressed to the nines and wearing an ornate hat for a television spot totter by a groom trying to keep a surprised horse calm as the sun rises over the famed Twin Spires is just as much a part of the buildup to the Derby as "My Old Kentucky Home" is.

You almost feel bad for the horses not associated with the big race. Horses are very routine-oriented creatures, and that goes out the window pretty quickly for every single equine on the grounds of Churchill Downs. Somehow, though, it wouldn't be Kentucky Derby week if these things didn't go on.

The further along in the week you get, the more people arrive. Some are connected to the horses, some are connected to the media, and some just want to be part of the spectacle.

The closer it is to race day, the less the horses do. While they still go out to the track, it is merely to stretch their legs. Trained eyes look at the contenders hoping to glean who is at their peak and who is past their prime, while track-side gossip is passed from one person to the next.

Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses get to train from 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. each day, with no other horses allowed on the track. In the minutes leading up to this bounty of talented runners taking to the dirt, the horses all circle patiently (usually) as crowds of people gather perhaps uncomfortably close to them.

This year's likely favorite, California Chrome, has opted out of the specialized training window and goes out with "regular" horses at about 7 a.m. instead, but it doesn't change the fact that tons of people follow him like he is a rock star and they are groupies.

If you have a horse that is popular going into the Derby, it is pretty much a guarantee he will have an uninvited escort to the track and from it. His bath time will be a prime photo op for journalists and iPhone holders alike. Just as everyone wants to hug the bride, everyone wants to say they put their eyes on the future Derby winner.

News conferences are called to deal with the ever growing number of people looking to ask the same questions. Panicked journalists will scurry from barn to barn if they see too large a group of people gathering in one place because obviously that means something might be going on that they don't know about.

The closer you get to the hospitality center, the usual barn scents of hay and horses are overtaken by the smells of chefs preparing gourmet feasts on live TV. If you listen and watch long enough, you will hear eight different ways to make the perfect mint julep, and your eyes will widen at the complicated but impeccable Derby hats that are on display for the viewers tuning in at home.

Then, somehow, before you know it, it is pushing 10 a.m., training hours are drawing to a close, and everyone hurries off to the next event that is on tap. The backside returns to a relatively normal state. Grooms go about their jobs, and horses go about eating their hay, but every one knows come sunrise, a mini-circus will roll back in through the gates.

Hats, dresses, suits and bow ties parade past at an incongruous time of day, as their wearers head home or to work or to wherever it is one goes on a weekday morning after getting up with the sun to watch horses gallop by.

Walking from the barns to the front of the track, you see people leaving who have been taking part in Dawn at the Downs. The popular event gives locals a chance to have breakfast in the grandstand and watch the Derby and Oaks contenders in their morning workouts.

The amazing thing is, many of them are dressed as if they were attending the Derby itself. Hats, dresses, suits and bow ties parade past at an incongruous time of day, as their wearers head home or to work or to wherever it is one goes on a weekday morning after getting up with the sun to watch horses gallop by.

Seeing them is a reminder of how much this race means to the city of Louisville, and yet many of its residents will never attend the Derby. It is too much hassle and too much money. The locals had claimed Oaks day as their own, but it has grown so popular that many either make do with Dawn at the Downs or come to the races on Thursday, which is now cheekily called Thurby.

Tomorrow morning, everyone will get up and do it again. The horses will go to the track, their people will keep their fingers crossed, visitors will gawk, and TV personalities will hawk their wares while the Twin Spires stand as a silent guard over it all.

The Derby may be the greatest 2 minutes in sports, but the buildup to it is almost just as fascinating.