By VOA News
Before the horses leave the gates at this year’s Kentucky Derby on Saturday, there will be another highly anticipated ceremony — at least highly anticipated by its five participants.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky will naturalize five new U.S. citizens from Cuba, Germany, Japan, Portugal, and the United Kingdom in a judicial naturalization ceremony at the Kentucky Derby.
Later, Saturday marks the 147th running of the horses at America’s iconic Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, also known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”
This year also marks the return of spectators to the event, after last year’s competition was pushed back until September without any spectators, moves made necessary by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contagion still looms large over this year’s event, however, with crowd size reduced from 150,000 fans to 50,000 who can more easily practice social distancing with the reduced numbers.
Essential Quality is the favored horse this year in the 19-horse race. Twenty horses usually run down the track, but King Fury was withdrawn because of a fever.
Essential Quality is owned by Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Human rights activists have questioned whether his horses should be allowed to run because of the controversy surrounding the disappearance of one of his daughters Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, several years ago.
Louisville, the Kentucky city where the race is held, has not escaped the racial protests that have been held across the country. Police entered the apartment of Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend in March 2020. The couple thought they were being burglarized. Taylor’s boyfriend fired off a shot and the police fired off more than 20 shots. Taylor was killed. Protesters have called for the race to be canceled.
A persistent controversy of the race is the use of the song My Old Kentucky Home, Kentucky’s state song. The song is about slave plantation life and the original lyrics contain a racist slur.
It is normally a sing-along song as the horses are taken to the track. Last year, however, it was performed as an instrumental piece, without any singing. It is not clear what form it will take this year.