Category Archives: Kentucky Derby

Fun and Freezing in Kentucky

Our three days of Derby are always a whirlwind of fun. Sometimes the weather cooperates, sometimes there’s some rain, or chill. This time around May decided to revisit March.

This demanded a change of wardrobe here and there. The easy-breezy summer dress and sandals for our traditional girl day while the boys are at the Oaks? Nope. Rethink that with a warmer dress, jacket, hose (I hate cold legs!) and booties. The hose and booties to be put on an hour or so post-pedicure in the ladies room of the restaurant where we have lunch.

Anyway, it’s all too much fun to whine (much).

This year we took our pals Bill and Nicole for their first Derby experience. It’s just more fun to see the whole amazing and marathon party through new eyes.

Flight’s pretty quick and easy, and we’re met by the fabulous Kathy and the fantastic Brian, whisked off to lunch and libation–in the rain. Then it’s off to the hotel to hang out, unpack, have another libation because, hey, it’s Derby. And Kathy brought bourbon–hey, it’s Kentucky–for the gentlemen.

Time to change it up for Club Night. My party shoes stayed home in lieu of booties. This year’s venue is a museum, just blocks from the hotel and it’s awesome. Before we head up to the party, our group tours the Hunger Games exhibit. The costumes! Holy Mockingjay! Just amazing and spectacular. BW has a crush on Jennifer Lawrence. Since I do, too, I can’t blame him.

Ready for Club Night!

The exhibit is really excellent, so those of you in and around Louisville shouldn’t miss it.

Then it’s party time. It’s always great to see our Derby family, those people we share this experience with year after year. We can nibble and drink and chat and catch up. Then we can dance!

We do it all, head back to the hotel–in the rain.

BW and Bill, Oaks bound

On the chilly, rain-soaked Friday morning our men dude it up for Oaks, and look hot and handsome. While they bet, bet, bet, Kathy, Nicole and I head off to City Nails for mani/pedis. I’m still hoping to wear my cute Derby shoes so get my toes painted to match my Derby dress. My nail tech performed a miracle on my fingers and toes–both in sad shape from bare feet and gardening.

Off to lunch–shivering–change from flip-flops to booties. Let’s have some champagne!

Lunch is lovely. The weather is windy and rainy. More shivering in the dash to the car, then it’s off to Rodes for some shopping.

Kathy happened to drop by Rodes a few days before, and consulted with my usual sales person, Beth. They put aside a suede-y, trench-coat-y topper they both thought I’d like.

I loved. And more than that it’s just the right warmth and weight for March in May. Thanks, Beth!

More shopping, and as is tradition my rep in the men’s department has shoes in for BW’s Father’s Day gift. (His size 14 feet are a challenge.) She shows me her favorite, and she’s nailed it. My fave, too. Father’s Day is in the bag.

More shopping for me, and for Nicole, and I find a hat I like so much better than the one I brought with me. New hat for Derby!

Back to the hotel through the wind and rain.

Time for hair, courtesy of Sarah. Makeup, glam outfits. More girl time on a fine girl day.

Men come back. I should add it poured–seriously poured rain all day. Bill apparently had little luck. BW had some. And then as we’re all doing the glam it up, the Oaks race comes on TV. BW hit the winner. So he’ll start his Derby Day ahead of the game.

Finish getting fancy. Aren’t we pretty!

BW, Nora, Bill, Nicole, Kathy glammed up and ready for the Gala

Brian escorts us down to the gala, and I’m grateful we don’t have to go outside.

I’m not so much a gala person in my actual life, but I love this event. It has that energy and excitement that’s Derby, it’s for a wonderful cause in Blessings In A Backpack. And everyone looks so pretty and happy. BW and I do the Red Carpet, then I head straight for one of my favorite parts of the night. The Silent Auction display. Oh yeah, I see some stuff to bid on–don’t forget that most excellent cause. I have the app on my phone, and I know how to use it.

On the Red Carpet

As always the York Sisters who handle the myriad of details involved in these handful of days have done a fabulous job. The ballroom is gorgeous. We have a fun table with our pals–from home and Kentucky. We have the stupendous John Elefante (Kansas) performing (and he and his lovely wife will be at our table for Derby). We have the also stupendous Wally Palmar (Romantics) performing (and also at our Derby table with his lovely wife!)

I’m busy pushing up the bidding on my chosen items (good cause).

There’s the photo booth–pick your props and mug. Which reminds me I have to go on line and order a few of my favorites.

 

Fun and more fun–and I make a nice haul (for a good cause) from the auction.

Time for bed.

I get up early on Derby Day, and learn–according to the news–it’s the coldest Derby morning since 1984. So much for the cute Derby shoes. It’s back to booties–and thank God for that new topper.

Cold or no cold, rain or no rain, we all look Derby polished.

We go early–BW and I like to BE there. Brian drives us through the rain, the traffic, and drops us off at the Red Carpet entrance. It’s not ready for celebs yet, but we can use that route–cut off some of the rain walk.

Then we’re up to Millionaire’s Row, and I do what I always do. Head straight out on the terrace. Even on a rain-spattered day, the Downs is glorious. But we’re in time to bet the next race!

Nicole and Nora
BW, Nicole, Bill, Nora
The lovely couple

Bet, lose a little. Hey the sun’s sort of out, so that’s a win. Outside to absorb, to look at hats and horses. Take advantage of the beautiful buffet, and the champagne our pals and Derby waitresses deliver to the table.

More people coming in, more hugs and Happy Derbys. More betting, more hats and horses. I pick a horse–I go by a name that strikes me, or a gray, or some other unscientific method. I do an across the board bet, and he comes in for me. Fairly long odds, so it’s a very fine return. Flap that cash!

Our table mates are here, and it’s so much fun to see them, to meet Wally and his wife.

The day goes by so fast–but the sun did indeed come out. It’s wonderful to stand outside (still cool!) in sunshine. And before you know it, it’s time to place those Derby bets.

I have a list that includes kids and grandkids and my own picks. I didn’t know at that time one of our Derby pals had asked BW if he wanted to kick a hundred dollars into their superfecta pool. 12 years running without a win, but you gotta bet.

Excitement’s building. So much noise, color, movement. I feel so lucky to be here, to be part of it.

A tradition, even in the rain

People crowd out on the terrace, and it’s that My Old Kentucky Home moment. It just grabs my heart every single time.

Those beautiful horses on the track, the colorful silks, the red of the roses, an infield full of people. Nothing like it.

Into the gate, excitement building. And they’re off.

I see quickly my big (relatively) bet isn’t going to pay off as my horse pulls up. Turns out it was a saddle or girth issue. But really, who cares. It’s stunning. That wall of sound, the incredible athleticism of horse and rider. For two minutes that’s the whole world. Coming down the back stretch, number five (Always Dreaming) has the lead. I don’t have a penny on him, but I’m cheering him home anyway.

And for our thirteenth time, we see the winner cross the finish line below. None of my list showed, but that’s Derby.

The Winner!

Moments later, there’s an absolute explosion of cheers and shouts from behind me. I see people I know jumping up and down, swinging each other around, high-fiving. Basically going nuts.

The pool hit the superfecta.

It’s a whole big pile of money to be split, but honestly, it’s the win. It’s that moment of holy shit, we did it. And I find out BW’s in on it.

Right then and there, one of our happy group goes down on one knee and proposes to his lady. Wow!

Good thing she said yes!

It’s so adorable, so sweet, and since he doesn’t have a ring, the clever Nicole takes little bits from her fascinator and makes one for the bride-to-be.

Foil from champagne bottle, bling from hat.

That’s our Derby family.

Tickets cashed in, taxes sliced off, and the net divided up into individual envelopes. We have a little ceremony as they’re handed out. It’s a most excellent return on $100, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But it really is the camaraderie, that moment of whee!!

We all say our goodbyes flushed with that moment. We give the newly engaged couple a ride back to the hotel, and that extends the fun just a little longer.

Back to the four of us, we get some room service, and since even party-animal BW is too tired for the after events, fall into bed.

Sunday’s sunny, of course, and a little warmer. Brian and Kathy haul us–and the considerable we picked up along the way–back to the airport. We’ll just finish this spectacular weekend with some mimosas on the short flight home.

Weather be damned. There’s nothing like Derby.

Nora

Horses and Hats, Music and Magic

Derby weekend has them all. Derby, for me, becomes its own world, and little that goes on outside it penetrates its glow. It’s all about color and pageantry, glamour and grit, bourbon and brilliance.
 
It packs a ridiculous amount of fun into a whirlwind.
 
This year our Derby companions are first-timers Laura and her husband, Mark. There’s an added kick of introducing Derby virgins to its unique and myriad charms.20160505_114945 20160505_115004
 
We leave Thursday morning in the downright raw, damp chill this spring can’t seem to throw off. After a short–and thankfully pretty smooth flight–we arrive in chilly, overcast Louisville. But I see a few hopeful breaks of blue in the sky–and best of all our Louisville pals Kathy and Brian. Kathy stands as our fearless leader, Brian our cop–and they’ve become members of our Derby family over the years.
 
Two seconds with them, and we’re back in the rhythm.
 
Off we go to lunch, which for me is not only about food and catching up, but smoothing out the edges traveling invariable frays for me. Smoothed out, fed and watered, and we step outside into actual sun! I could do a happy boogie right on the street.
 
At the hotel, Kathy’s already smoothed the way a bit more by checking in for us. We have to pause and admire the enormous Chocolate Pharaoh in the lobby. Where else will you see a life-size chocolate sculpture of a Triple Crown winner but Derby?
 
Unpack, hang out, take a walk, have a drink. Then it’s time to polish up for Club Night. Party time with more Derby family. Food and drink, betting tips, music and dancing. If you’re not ready to kick off your shoes and dance, you should’ve stayed home! We’re ready. So we dance and laugh and reconnect with friends we’ve made through this marvelous event.
 
Then go home and fall into bed.
 

Friday dawns beautifully. Sunny and warm and pretty. A perfect Oaks Day for the men, a perfect Girl Day for Laura, Kathy and me. Our men look pretty damn dapper, and show some pink for Oaks Day tradition.

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But we girls are heading off for our own fun. We start at City Nails for mani/pedis. I love this place, one that’s become part of that Derby family. It’s–like Louisville–warm and welcoming and fun. Plus they have the most amazing pedi chairs. Your eyes could roll back as the chair massages every inch of you while you’re getting your feet rubbed. If I had one of those chairs at home I’d live in it–and in a coma of bliss.
 
They also have big screens with the Oak’s races on. In bliss I watch the field for an upcoming race, pick out one. And he wins. This could bode well for my betting on Derby Day. I love my pretty toes, admire my classic French manicure. I think how it’ll be too bad to mess it up gardening in a week. Then remind myself that’s reality. This is Derby.
 
Let’s go have lunch and lots of champagne!
 
We do just that, have lovely food in a lively place with a charming waiter. Girl talk, and what the hell, we’ll go for dessert. If you can’t indulge at Derby, when and where? Plus, we’re sharing and shared desserts, as everyone knows, don’t count.
 
Another traditional stop on Girl Day is Rodes for shopping. I never walk out empty-handed or disappointed, and this year is no exception. Scarves! Why can’t I stop buying scarves? And oh, look at that red bag! And that jacket! And . . . well, definitely not empty-handed. Following tradition, I hit the men’s department for BW’s Father Day shoes. They know I’m coming and have a selection in his size. Size 14 isn’t a snap to find! And fun socks to go with my pick–voted on by all three girls.
 
Being girls we spot a young woman trying on dresses. She’s got a lovely, slim build. We learn she’s buying her Derby dress, and chime right in with opinions. Laura talks her into trying on a cute red hat–as she’s looking for a hat as well. When she talks about just not wearing one, the three of us gasp in shock. LOL. We all voted for a pretty, springy print dress, and I hope she bought it–but she looked a little shell-shocked by the time we left.
 
Now it’s back to the hotel when Kathy’s wonderful hairdresser Sarah will glam up our hair for the gala. So it’s hair and makeup and pretty dresses, sparkles and shoes. All girls until the men come back to get their manly glam on.
 
No question they had fun at the Oaks so it’s talk of horses and who they met, what they won, what they lost. And by the time we’re spiffed up, we all look marvelous.

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The Unbridled Gala seriously sparkles–and for a most excellent cause. Blessings In A Backpack. There’s little more vital than seeing that children don’t go hungry. I’m so proud to be a part of a night that recognizes the importance of filling that need. And the York Sisters–Tonya and Tammy–know how to throw a party.
 
BW and I walk the Red Carpet. A question often asked: What’s your Derby pick? This one’s easy for me this year. Before we left home I settled on Exaggerator–I appreciate a good exaggerator. It’s how I make my living. So I’ve chosen him on his name alone. Completely unscientific and silly, but there it is.
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The ballroom shines spectacularly. All while and silver and crystal. I can’t imagine how much time, creativity, effort goes into putting all this together–the sheer organizational heft is beyond me.
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The silent auction’s yet another integral part of the night, and I’ve already spotted what I MUST have. There are two old iron doors, narrow, runged, a wonderful rusty look to them. They speak to me, and say: Nora, we belong in your garden.
 
I agree.
 
A couple other things pop out as we wander, but the doors are IT.
 
We enjoy dinner, the people watching–so many gorgeous dresses. At one point, Laura and I were outside, and this pretty young couple hopped out of a car. He’s in black tie, she’s in a short, frothy white dress. They’d been looking for a red carpet for a picture.
 
Laura makes their wish come true, takes some pictures of them on the red carpet. Then she spots another couple. I want that woman’s incredible silver dress. They are simply gorgeous, elegant, perfect, somehow retro with a contemporary edge. Laura asks if they’ll just stand where they are for a minute more, backs to us, so she can take a picture of them. She does it in black and white, adding to that timeless elegance. And they’re so taken with it, he asks if she’ll send it to him.
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I check my phone app excessively–I’m not losing those doors!
 
The entertainment this year is jaw-dropping. Wynonna Judd opens, and rocks the house. I’ll add she looks fabulous. People crowd onto the dance floor to take pictures, videos.
 
My jaw drops another few inches as Dennis DeYoung (Styx!) takes the stage. Holy crap! He’s incredible, and when he performs Lady, I’m seriously transported. I can’t count the times I’ve listened to that song, sung along with it on the radio. And here I am watching and hearing him perform it in person.
 
Check the doors, check the doors. I will not be outbid.
 
But we’re not done yet. I can’t believe it. John Elefante (Kansas!) comes on stage. OMG! Dust In The Wind. This is Elefante singing Dust In The Wind right here, right now. Carry On My Wayward Son? Are you kidding me? This is actually happening.
 
This is the amazing world of Derby. By the time Robin Thicke comes on, people are crowded onto the dance floor–dancing as well as taking pictures. They’re (including us) dancing at their tables. It’s sound and color and joy, everywhere.
 
Turns out BW and Mark spent some time with John’s lovely wife Michelle at the Oaks, and they come over to our table. It’s a big thrill to meet them–and learn they’ll be at our table at Derby. As Laura says, Michelle is definitely One Of Us–and would be welcomed into our tribe.

 

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Unbridled Eve co-chair Tonya York, John Elefante and Nora
We dance and talk and enjoy until midnight–but tomorrow’s Derby. Time for bed.
 
A truly fantastic evening. And I got the doors!!!
 
Derby dawns a little overcast, but they’re promising sun and warm–with some serious storms in the evening, after the race. We get our Derby on–fun hats, comfortable shoes, pretty dresses and handsome suits. I’ve become the Pocket Square expert (You just Google it) for both men.
 
We four look smashing!
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We go early. We like the full day, and arrive during the second race. Another Red Carpet, and I’m sticking with Exaggerator for my main pick. Through the green room–the excitement’s already building. The crowds, the voices, the color, the energy. And Brian’s whisks us up to Millionaire’s Row. I do what I always do–head straight outside.
 
Because there it is, that rich brown oval, that vivid green infield grass already peopled with color. The pure white, the spires, the red roses, the rush of it all, and the classic tradition under a blue sky. I’d come back, again and again, for that one moment.
 
We have our favorite server, Amy–more Derby family. And we have time to place bets on the next race. There’s a gray, so following my mother’s advice, I bet on him. And chalk up my first win of the day. It’ll be awhile before I chalk up another.
 
It’s so much fun to see the outfits, the hats, to see familiar faces, do more catching up. But it’s thrilling to watch the horses, to step outside on the terrace, watch them in the gate, watch them spring out and do what they were born to do. Just run.

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Nora and Michelle Elefante

We eat, and bet. We drink, and bet. John and Michelle join us, adding to the fun. I’m sticking when grays when I see one–and with the same cute young guy at the betting window. Though I lose several in a row. We have a racing pal who sits with us awhile, tells us who to bet on in this race–won’t make any money, but he’ll win it. Suggests we make a bet I’ve never made before. Betting on this horse overall. That means he wins, and we’ve also put money on the rest of the entire field, so the amount we win depends on who pulls in second.

 
We do it, and win a dollar. LOL. He was right, on all counts.
 
I win a little, lose a little, enjoy my time outside in the air, the warm, with those horses thundering by. The stands are full, the infield alive with people.
 
I meet Diego Klattenhoff of The Blacklist (big fan here), and I HAVE to ask him if Lizzy is really dead. He will neither confirm nor deny, but I have to forgive that. He’s so handsome.

 

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Nora and Diego
And Mike Mills (R.E.M.!) is back. We connected with him a couple Derbys ago, and it’s so great to see him again. And the delightful Warren Moon, always so warm.

 

Michelle Elefante, Mike Mills, BW, Nora, John Elefante
Michelle Elefante, Mike Mills, BW, Nora, John Elefante
Mark’s in heaven meeting Mark Sanchez.
 
Lots of photographs, lots of chatter. Our table is just so much fun. The Dust In The Wind genius is sitting at our table, and Laura and I have bonded with his wife. That’s Derby magic.
 
And the big race is coming up.
 
We have lots of bets here. Bets for our grandkids, for friends at home. And I have to figure out my own. Exaggerator’s my major bet, but not the only. I think I’ll box a couple–with the favorite Nyquist. And there are grays in the field. I pick one to bet.
 
I pocket my tickets, and pretty much forget about the bets. Win or lose, I know what’s coming.
 
Honestly, every time the first strains of My Old Kentucky Home glide into the air, I’m caught by the throat. To be standing there on the terrace, now packed with people, looking out at the crowds, hearing the voices of so many united in song–it’s such a feeling.
 
Then the cheers, the energy and excitement.
 
Watching those gorgeous athletes taking their walk on the oval, riders up, silks brilliant. I pick out Exaggerator. He looks so proud. Let’s see what he can do.
 
So much noise, such universal enthusiasm for this one slice of time as the horses are loaded into the gate. And boy, they’re off. That rising, sustained wall of sound. Cheers, shouts, thundering hooves all blurred together. And the sheer, stunning beauty of it. Dirt flying, long legs pounding, jockeys clinging like brilliant burrs.
 
I note my horse is falling back. Way back. Oh well.
 
Just look at them. All of them, every one, vital and strong and fast.
 
I see, to my astonishment, Exaggerator is moving up, and really moving up. Okay, that’s unexpected. Go! Go! Go! Just wow, look at him. The field is gorgeous, but I’m struck–and would have been without the bet–at how he pours it on, coming from way behind, moving up, up, up.
 
The crowd, thousands of voices, at a frantic pitch, as they round that curve, come down the stretch. Nyquist captures the Derby, but Exaggerator, picked on a whim, takes second–and to my eye, magnificently. What a show, what a horse–I take nothing from the champion, or any in the field. But number eleven had all the heart in the world to me.
 
Plus, I bet him across the board!
 
I cover my day’s bets, and then some with my whimsical pick, and go in for the post-race talk with our Derby family. And to collect my winnings.
 
We always stay for the last two races. Too much fun, and outside, far too much traffic. The rain’s coming. You can see the storm brewing out there. The light edges toward drama. But we sit, talk, have another drink, and I pick a horse–a long(ish)shot gray–for the next race. What the heck, across the board again.
 
Wander outside to watch the horses walk to the gate. Oh, my gray is so, so beautiful. I talk with Mike Mills and his so, so beautiful girlfriend. She’s also bet on the gray. We are united.
 
I’m really just about soaking up the rest of the day by now, watching those gorgeous horses for the last couple times. I don’t know if anyone was more surprised than I was when the gray came in.
 
Woo!!
 
Last race, last bet. The place is emptying out, the storm’s closing in. Laura points out there’s an Irish horse in this last field. Race Me Home, at five to one. I always bet the Irish horse, and I like the name. Across the board. Perhaps influenced by my luck toward the end of the day, BW follows my bet. Part of me is sad it’s the last race–the last of a marvelous experience. Part of me is ready to get on regular clothes.
 
So I soak it in yet again, this last race. And bam! We hit. Up the Irish!
 
A very nice way to close out Derby Day.
 
By the time we head to the car, the rain’s started. And the wind. And the lightning. They meant serious storm, and they didn’t lie. But Brian gets us through, gets us home, where we fall on the food we’d pre-ordered from room service, then pretty much fall into bed.
 
Overcast Sunday morning, and feeling lazy before it’s time to pack. Packing to go home takes a lot less time. Louisville shines for Derby–and as I know from years past when I stopped on book tour here–is welcoming and full of easy hospitality all year. I’m ready to go home, but I’ll look forward to coming back. 
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Nora, Kathy, Laura — the day after
The flight home’s short–bumpy toward the end as we come over my mountains–so nothing’s better than stepping onto the ground again. Big hugs goodbye for Laura and Mark, our fun and happy Derby mates.
 
And home where it’s warm and sunny, my dogs are happy to see us, the gardens are blooming.
 
Reality is just fine–especially after a weekend of magic.
Nora