Derby fundraiser returns to history


SUBLETTE COUNTY – Voices echoed throughout the cement-laden fairgrounds event center as Rich Strike started his charge on the far turn. Like most watching this year’s Kentucky Derby across the country and beyond, none drew their attention to the longshot near the back of the pack.

An audible excitement didn’t come until Epicenter gained a commanding lead into the final furlong. Often nicknamed “the most exciting 2 minutes in sports,” the excitement inside the Sublette County Fairgrounds culminated during the final 20 seconds when the 80-to-1 horse started its blistering closing pace.

NBC’s race caller Larry Collmus finally said the words “Rich Strike” just moments before the impossible became inevitable. The galloping winner was added to the race just 34 hours before post because another horse scratched. In a field of 20 horses, Rich Strike wore No. 21. It wasn’t until the race was over, replays were shown and analysts dissected the longshot’s path to victory, that the audience really knew what it saw.

Hundreds gathered at the Sublette County Fairgrounds for the return of the Pinedale Fine Arts Council’s Kentucky Derby Fundraiser. For the event, the building is transformed into Ice Box Downs. Those coming are encouraged to wear their most fitting ensemble for the occasion – an afternoon of food and fun for a cause. It was the first Derby fundraiser since 2019, following a pandemic-related hiatus. The event’s return to normalcy set the stage for spectators to witness history.

PFAC board members and volunteers prepared in the hours leading up to the race. The course for the “world’s most prestigious stick horse race,” as emcee Jeff Moran referred to it, surrounded the seating space. Those races were truly the main attraction, as local sponsors and spectators placed their bets on which teams would post the fastest times navigating the course of tasks and obstacles. They were run after the Derby itself, when teams were ready to make their own underdog charges to glory.

Organizers’ excitement built with every Derby-themed outfit – vibrant colors, old-timey outfits and flowers perched atop hair. The accoutrements associated with the race – mint juleps and pimento cheese sandwiches – were offered to get people into the spirit. Appetizers and libations set the tone for the social hour in the lead up to the excitement.

“This is so fun because it could fall off the rails at any moment,” PFAC’s Tim Ruland chuckled between chores.

Ice Box Downs, named for Big Piney’s distinction as “Ice Box of the Nation,” filled with people as the projector powered on and the race was broadcast from nearly 1,500 miles away. Rapper and Louisville native Jack Harlow gave his introductions on screen, the lights went down and the crowd rose to its feet as the University of Louisville’s choir sang “My Old Kentucky Home.”

The rest was history. An event returned to raise funds to promote arts throughout Sublette County and the largest underdog to ever win a Kentucky Derby. Then, of course, the stick horse races.

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