May 6, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff WriterSince starting in horse racing in 1964, Lander's Marlene Young has had eight state champions in Wyoming, but she knows one contest always takes the winner's circle.
"It's some of the greatest horse racing in the racing business -- and we're in the horse racing business," Young said about the Kentucky Derby raced Saturday afternoon.
Watching the Super Bowl of the horse racing world at the new Wyoming Horse Racing off-track betting room in Bomber's Sports Bar, Young and dozens of others gathered to enjoy an American tradition celebrating its 138th year.
Disposable plastic cups filled with mint juleps lined tables while some women wore the Derby's trademark, fanciful hats as eyes focused on television sets showing race statistics leading up to the roughly 4:31 p.m. start.
In a change for many who watch the race each year at their homes or favorite establishment, patrons wagered on the Derby thanks to off-track betting that started at the business about two months ago.
"We had people already come from Lander and bet," said Brande Koltiska, the off-track betting manager at the bar. "It's the busiest day we've had."
I'll Have Another overtook the leader in the final stretch over favored Bodemeister to win the race. But ask any of the 60 or so spectators attending the bar's Kentucky Derby party who they wanted to win, and the answers covered the field.
"I'm putting it on Hansen," said Gerald Heinrich, who accompanied Young to watch the race. "He's a beautiful looking horse."
Young placed bets on the white-coated Hansen as well, along with Gemologist and Dullahan.
"We just watched them on TV and seen them run," she said of her top picks.
Paula Shankle and her husband, Dave, took a shotgun approach.
"We picked Bodemeister. We picked Union Rags. We picked Liaison. You've got to have the long shot," Paula Shankle said.
"And Take Charge Indy. We had to have him, too," she added. "And Creative Cause."
Although hopeful of a win among her picks, she remained jovial just attending.
"I'd be happy (with a win) but it's a great turnout," she said.
"We usually watch the races on TV anyways and with this, putting a couple dollars down made it interesting because we never come to bars," her husband said with a laugh.
With mint juleps in front of them, Jan Bush and Rebecca Mesa wore their Derby hats as they waited for the race to start. Their pick was Bodemeister, who went off as the No. 2 choice among oddsmakers.
"We were really super excited, too, but we think our horse might be scratched," said Bush, who sat with her husband, Dirk.
"We lost it before the race started," Dirk joked about their bets.
"He's one pound overweight, and if he doesn't lose one pound really quick he's scratched," said Mesa, who lived in Virginia about 15 miles from the farm where Bodemeister has roots.
Bodemeister raced and appeared poised to win, but no such luck.
"We've been watching it since we were little kids," Jan Bush said, adding that she makes Derby hats each year.
"We've got some at the house that will knock you out from here," she said, motioning an arm's length away.
"It's like the Super Bowl," Dirk Bush said about the race's popularity, which hit a record 165,000 spectators this year. "It's the hats, it's the people, it's the whole thing."
As the race neared its hugely anticipated start, people began crowding around the bar to view one of the several widescreen televisions.
"This is like waiting for who shot J.R. that year," Rick Williams quipped aloud.
When the race finished, the excitement calmed and conversations resumed. Some headed to the betting booth to collect their winnings.
"I think we've got a better chance here than out at the casino," Paula Shankle said.
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