It was a packed house at Tioga Downs in Nichols, N.Y. on Saturday as it kicked off its ninth season of harness racing. The event, dubbed "Derby Day," is held in conjunction with the 140th Kentucky Derby.

By 3 p.m., just two hours preceding a post time of 5 p.m., the casino began to fill to a near standing room only crowd in the area surrounding the track and the main stage area.

And as in previous years, some of those arriving were sporting derby hats, a long-standing tradition for race-goers on "Derby Day."

With many of the hats containing feathers, sequins and playing cards, other hats were a bit more creative, with items sewn on them, and attire complimenting the colors within the hats.

One of the guests who arrived to enter the derby hat contest, which took place prior to post-time, was Lynette Farnham of Binghamton, N.Y.

As an Oncology Nurse, Farnham works with cancer patients every day. Her hat this year contained ribbons that represent 26 types of cancers. To compliment this, Farnham wore a sash that identified each type of cancer and the color of the ribbon that represented it.

Farnham, who has worked as a nurse for 34 years, with 25 of those in Oncology, stated that she designed her hat and attire in a theme that can be utilized for the caregivers lap at upcoming Relay for Life events around the region.

As for her work, Farnham stated that it is very rewarding. "It's the best patient you will ever take care of," said Farnham of her profession.

Farnham's creativity won her third place in the derby hat contest on Saturday, and she walked away with $100.

Winning first this year was Carol Dey, with her large brim hat covered with white and black feathers - a topping that represented the 140th season of the Kentucky Derby contained glitter, as well as the meaning behind the celebration.

Dey participated in the derby hat contest four years ago with two friends, who called themselves the "Trifecta".

Dey stated that it felt good to be back; and her return landed her first place in the derby hat contest, and $300.

But with 54 registered for the derby hat contest, not all could emerge as a winner.

Barbara Mahoney, from Pittsburgh, Pa., arrived at Tioga Downs on Saturday sporting a derby hat that had small horses placed around it.

Mahoney stated that her and her sisters have made it a tradition to attend opening day each year; with each traveling from areas all over Pennsylvania and New York.

"We all meet, we make hats, and we have fun," said Mahoney.

Down at the track, the grandstands were slowly filling as post time neared.

Tioga County's Marine Corps Color Guard participated in the opening ceremonies, and Michaela Clark, of Binghamton, N.Y., sang the national anthem.

Clark, who was this year's Rockokie Winner, a contest held during the winter months at Tioga Downs, offered a pitch perfect performance for guests on opening day. Jeff Stockholm, bugler from Syracuse, N.Y., officiated the commencement of the first race at Tioga Downs.

Floyd, a well-known horse on the track, was already in place as the horses participating in the first official race trotted behind the Williams Auto Group truck. As they neared the opposite side of the track, they were ready, and then they were off.

Splitsville, with driver Jim Marohn Jr., and trained by Bob Harmon training, prevailed as the winner in the first official race of the season with a time of 1:56:2. The horse is owned by Harmon Racing.

The action continued into the evening, with live racing all evening, and a simulcast break for viewing of the opening of the Kentucky Derby as well as continued live music.

The racing season continues. For more information on the ninth racing season, or any of the programs taking place at Tioga Downs, visit them online at www.tiogadowns.com, or call 1-888-WIN-TIOGA.