LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Whether it's been as a college student or professional, longtime trainer Vicki Oliver's trips to Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses have been routine.
"A big group of us come here every single year," Oliver said. "Usually, we're all gearing up to get on the bus, come to the Derby and bet. It's a little different now: We'll be driving ourselves."
That's because Oliver is set to become just the 18th woman to ever participate in the Kentucky Derby as a trainer. She'll be the first since 2015, when Carla Gaines had Bolo, who finished 12th. Oliver has trained for a little more than 20 years and will run Hidden Stash in the race.
"I never dreamed we'd have one in here," Oliver said. "It started to hit me driving here last night. You weren't really thinking about it at all until we actually got here."
The first-time Derby trainer has always been around horse racing. Her father was a breeder and owner in G. Watts Humphrey Jr., who taught her all about the business. She was an exercise and show rider before eventually getting into training with her husband Phil, whom she met on a racetrack.
Oliver Racing Stables works in Florida from December through March and then in Lexington at Keeneland from April through November.
As someone who's been a lifer in the sport, Oliver told the Courier Journal she hopes she can be a "role model" to any young woman looking to be like her. But she mainly focuses on the work.
"You don't really think about it," Oliver said of being a woman in horse racing. "You just come here and do your job."
To become the first woman to win the Kentucky Derby, her horse will have to overcome some long odds. Hidden Stash will be coming out of post 13 and is listed at 50-1 to win. His "massive stride" stood out to Oliver after first breezing the three-year-old and she thinks he'll have to find some speed late.
"We need pace in front of us, for sure," Oliver said. "He doesn't like to get in the race early. So we definitely need some pace. He handles the dirt, he handles everything in stride and I hope he switches leads. But I just want a clean trip and to get to the outside so we're coming down the lane late."
If that happens and she has a shot to make history, it'll be tough to contain the excitement.
"My heart would jump out of my chest," Oliver said.
But no matter what, the veteran is enjoying a chance to work the Derby instead of watch it.
"Whether you win or you run last, you're in the top 20 three-year-olds in the world that made it here," Oliver said. "And I think that's a huge feat anyways."
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