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All goes well and seems well

It was a Kentucky Derby as hard to predict as the weather, with a field of long shots, one high-profile scratch and a sloppy track.

So it seemed only fitting that Calvin Borel would charge to victory on 50-1 shot Mine That Bird just a day after winning the Oaks aboard Rachel Alexandra by more than 20 lengths. Both were the second-biggest winning margins ever in their 135-year-old races.

Borel, whose childlike glee after winning his first Derby aboard Street Sense in 2007 captured the world's affection, was an emotional volcano, rocking back and forth on his horse on the way to the winner's circle and high-fiving everyone in sight.

His bettors were rocking, too: A $2 wager to win on Mine That Bird paid a cool $103.20.

It was a joyous outcome for a Derby that seemed all day to be dimmed by gloom about the weather, the economy and a recent history of horse breakdowns.

Thankfully, no horses broke down. And despite predictions of a Derby downpour, the overnight rains ended before Churchill Downs' gates opened. There was no need for the ponchos and plastic many spectators brought to the track. Temperatures remained cool but comfortable under lead-gray skies. The only unhappy people seemed to be the drink vendors. Mint juleps were selling better than beer, but even they weren't selling that well in spite of one vendor's mid-morning pitch: "Mint juleps! Mint juleps! Breakfast of champions."

Fans posed for photos in front of the new statue honoring Barbaro, the 2006 Derby winner who was euthanized after months of trying to recover from an injury in the Preakness.

Emotions were even more raw as an undercard race for fillies was renamed the Eight Belles, after the courageous filly who broke down and had to be destroyed at the end of last year's Derby after running as hard as she could with the big boys. Before that race began, a bell tolled eight times.

Another cloud hanging over Derby to some extent was the recession. The crowd was still large. And the day before saw the fourth-largest Oaks day audience, 104,867.

The lines at the betting windows were almost as long as those at the women's restrooms, but it was hard to tell whether people were betting as much as usual.

Nahru Lampkin of Detroit, who over the past 15 years has become something of a Derby celebrity by sitting in the infield playing bongos and rapping to passersby, said his tips were off about 20 percent.

He was working hard for every dollar pitched into his plastic bucket, rhyming about the pretty women walking by and offering advice to college students: "Stay in school, don't be dumb or you could end up playing this drum."

On the other end of the Derby's social scale, gourmet smells filled the Jockey Suites, but the crowd seemed a little lighter than usual. Outside rooms with brass door plates identifying them as the domains of banks, railroads and big horse farms, regulars said there was less corporate entertaining than in the recent past.

Still, the Derby attracted its share of the rich and famous. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai was here to see his two entries, Regal Ransom and Desert Party, fail to break his Derby jinx. And billionaire Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, was a guest in the Jockey Suites room of Louisville power couple Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, creators of 21c Museum Hotel.

The red carpet walk included Motown music greats Aretha Franklin and Mary Wilson, several pro football players and Bobby Flay, the chef made famous by the Food Network.

And if that wasn't enough celebrity food, two Bravo network Top Chef competitors demonstrated creative hot Brown sandwich recipes in the Infield Club. And weight-loss titan Jenny Craig had a horse entered with the ironic name Chocolate Candy.

The Derby fashion parade was as colorful as ever. Some wore seersucker, linen and silk; others denim and khaki. A few showed up in super-hero leotards and tacky hats.

Pete Bush, a Louisville native who now lives in Baton Rouge, La., was decked out in his finest, hoping it wouldn't rain and ruin his shiny white shoes. "I'd like to wear them more than once," he said.

The grandstands and suites were filled with shapely women in tight dresses and feathery hats almost big enough for their own ZIP codes.

Cynthia Lundeen, who designs hats in Cleveland, was in her element, posing for pictures in one of own creations while her husband followed in a tuxedo and a big hat of his own.

"On Derby Day, everyone is so happy," Lundeen said. "If the whole world could be like Derby Day, the world would be a better place."

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