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Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard makes first appearance at Kentucky Derby

By Cpl. Drew Barker | | May 09, 2007

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The Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard proudly marched through downtown Louisville as part of the Pegasus Parade, May 3.

The Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard proudly marched through downtown Louisville as part of the Pegasus Parade, May 3. (Photo by Cpl. Drew Barker)

Photo Details | Download |

Photo Details | Download |

Photo Details | Download |

Louisville, Ky. -- The United States Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard penned another chapter in its distinguished and illustrious history May 3-5, participating in events leading up to and including the 2007 Kentucky Derby.

Although Street Sense stole the show, winning the 133rd running of the race, the color guard had the momentous honor of marching in the Pegasus Parade and presenting the American and Marine Corps flags at Churchill Downs during the opening ceremonies of both the Oaks Race and the Kentucky Derby.

“Louisville is a community that honors our veterans and appreciates the service of the men and women who have fought to keep our country free,” said Jerry Abramson, mayor of Louisville, Ky., home to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. “The Mounted Color Guard's participation in this year's Derby festivities certainly reminded us of the sacrifices that generations of Americans have made, which enable us to celebrate special events like these.”

Traditionally, members of the Louisville Metro Police Department have presented colors during opening ceremonies at Churchill Downs, but this year Chief of Police Robert C. White and his dedicated staff decided to give the Marines the opportunity.

“We have a great deal of respect for those serving our country. After all, there is a kinship between military and police personnel. Many of our personnel are military veterans. We even have a few activated service members,” said Maj. Rodney Milburn, commander of Special Operations Division, LMPD. “Once we were aware of the color guard’s availability for the Oaks and Derby, we supported their participation. After all, what better way to showcase their presentation than at the world’s most famous racetrack.”

Upon arrival at Churchill Downs, the four-man color guard spent time meticulously preparing themselves and their mustangs for the upcoming performances. “I’d say we’ve probably logged more than 50 hours of riding and another 15 on equipment maintenance just for this one event,” said Cpl. Justin Tulley, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the color guard. “We’ve taken the proper measures to ensure we’ll be able to perform to the best of our abilities.”

Training for the Marines on the color guard is different, to say the least. “We ride wild mustangs of palomino color that we’ve gotten from the Bureau of Land Management,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ivan Collazosanchez, the Staff NCOIC of the color guard. “They aren’t like show ponies, we have to spend months, even years gentling and training these animals before they’re ready to march.”

The color guard’s unwavering dedication and attention to detail was obvious to all when they took the track Friday and Saturday. “They looked like a picture in a magazine, as professional as could be, and that’s what you’d expect from Marines,” said David Sweazy, vice president of operations at Churchill Downs. “I thought they added to the pageantry and tradition of The Derby. It was really a nice touch, The Derby and the Marines really complimented each other.”

The color guard was formed in 1967 on Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow in Southern California. It has participated in many events throughout the western part of the country including the Fiesta Bowl, a number of Super Bowls and the Military Finals Rodeo. The color guard also has the unique distinction of being the only military unit ever to lead the Tournament of Roses Parade.

“We’ve done a lot of high profile events,” said Collazosanchez. “But this definitely takes the cake. I mean, it’s the biggest horse racing event in the world and we were a part of it.”

Though rain accompanied floats during much of the Pegasus Parade, it failed to dampen the spirits of nearly 150,000 onlookers who braved the weather to take part in the oldest and first event of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

“It’s really great to see our service members out here representing the military,” said one woman in attendance. “Despite what’s happening with the war, you have to support these guys. I’m just glad they could be here for this.”

After the color guard had fulfilled its commitment, all that was left to do was pack up the trailer and hit the road. “We came 1,500 miles from California, and with the horses it makes for a pretty long trip,” said Lance Cpl. Ryne Charlton, a stableman and rider with the color guard. “We’ve got another big parade in a week, so we’ve got to get going.”

The weekend also marked the celebration of the color guard’s 40th birthday. “What better gift than to be invited out here to do the opening ceremony of the Kentucky Derby and make history again,” said Collazosanchez.

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