KYNG hosts “138th” Kentucky Derby—in Iraq

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Unit brings race to Baghdad in unique style

By The Staff



Determination filled the faces of the decorated stick horses and their jockeys as they approached the starting line—and as fast as they rode in, they were off.

This was the big one, the one everyone had been preparing for. And even though this wasn’t the most traditional Kentucky Derby ever held, it was close enough for the Soldiers of Multi-National Division—Baghdad and the 4th Infantry Division.

MND-B Soldiers got a taste of the first running of  “138th” units Kentucky Derby held in the division headquarters parking lot May 3. The “Kentucky home-grown Gala” was hosted by Soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard’s 138th Fires Brigade.

Each section within the MND-B headquarters building was represented by a “jockey,” who had to “gallop” one lap around the building mounted on a creatively-decorated stick horse.

The event was celebrated the first Saturday in May—just like the classic race held in the Commonwealth. Three races took place during the event: The Baghdad Mile, The Quarterback Cup, and the main event, of course—The “Kentucky Derby.”

“It’s a way to pay honor to the state and the tradition of the horse racing industry,” said Col. Billy West, a Richmond, Ky., native, who is the commander of the 138th Fires Brigade. “The Kentucky Derby is an event watched worldwide, and here, we’re just a small part.”

“Kentucky Guardsmen take the safety and security of the Commonwealth of Kentucky seriously, and anything we can do to bring honor to the state is a good thing.”

In the race, the participants paraded to the starting line with their stick horses, making an amusing representation. There were mint juleps—without the alcohol, of course, and the traditional playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” by the 4th Infantry Division Band.

The biggest difference between this race and the real Derby is the fact that these horses ran on only two legs—those of each jockey.

“I feel sweaty and hot, but it’s exciting to bring my section to the winner’s circle,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Zwirner, the winner of the Baghdad Mile, who is a native of Alexandria, Va. Zwirner serves as a liaison officer with the Intelligence Security Command, Company B, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, MND-B.

The key element for the victory, he claimed, was the horse.

“You can see it’s a natural thoroughbred,” joked Zwirner.

“I was excited during the whole race, and I saw a lot of enthusiasm from the Soldiers,” said Zwirner. “I saw a lot of creative horses out there.”

There certainly was a lot of excitement during the last race, where the spectators intently listened to the announcer’s narration of the race, telling what section was taking the lead. But in the end, there was only one winner.

“It was pretty hot and rough,” said Sgt. George Martinez, the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Martinez is a native of Los Angeles and serves as the assistant battle captain with the division engineers office.

Martinez said his strategy to win the race was to change horses at the last minute. He paraded around with a big, stylish horse, but just before race time, he changed it for a swifter, lighter breed.

“It surprised everybody when I came out with the other horse,” said Martinez. “Everybody thought we were going to race with the big horse and have the disadvantage, but we actually came into the lead and won the race.”

Martinez said the big horse was rough to “gallop” and, for that reason, he hid the lighter horse between the head of the bigger one.

“It was a pretty big event today,” said Martinez. “It got everybody taking their minds off their busy daily schedules to come out here and have some fun and enjoy our time in Iraq because we don’t get a lot of that here.”

To conclude the event, the winner of the Derby was brought to the Winners Circle, where the winning horse was presented with a wreath. Although, this was just a celebration of the “134th” running of the Kentucky Derby, the Soldiers

who participated will always be able to say,

“I was once a jockey (in) the Kentucky Derby—in Iraq.”