Derby weekend 2014

We arrived in Louisville Thursday afternoon to cool temps and a seriously brisk wind. Delighted to see our BFF in Louisville, Kathy, and our fabulous cop Brian at the airport. Load up and head to the hotel. Time for a little catch-up, and our traditional lunch at the Dizzy Whiz–on to the hotel for unpacking, then it’s already time to change for the evening events.

We have a big bonus round this trip as we’ve been invited to have drinks with Sue Grafton and her husband Steve at their home in Louisville. I’ve been a fan of Sue’s and her brilliant Kinsey Milhone since A Is For Alibi, so it’s a real treat. As if that wasn’t enough, their home and grounds are absolutely amazing. They’ve rehabbed an gorgeous old mansion, and Steve particularly is an avid and creative gardener. Jason, Kat and I had a delightful time wandering the hedge maze they’ve built–I’ve ALWAYS wanted to try my hand at a maze, and this one was just great. We eventually found our way out where BW waited for the adventurers with Sue and Steve.

This visit was a perfect kickoff to our Derby time. 

Then we’re off to Poker Night. We don’t play–Texas Hold ‘Em confuses me–but it’s a great time catching up with friends we’ve made from previous trips. VERY cool evening, and cool inside, too, so I’m grateful for my topper. Never took it off. 

Friday is Oaks Day for BW and Jason, and Girl Day for Kat, Kathy and me. As is tradition we start off at City Nails for manis and pedis. I love this place, everyone’s so happy and friendly. I get bright orange toenails to go with my Derby Day outfit. Fun! 

Time for lunch, and a glass of champagne for me. It’s Derby! Then onto Rodes for shopping. I spy a bag within ten seconds that had to be mine, and it just got better from there. Another tradition is finding BW (size 14!) cool shoes in the men’s department as a Father’s Day gift, and they don’t let me down. Bags, scarves, a jacket, BW’s shoes, some baubles. Where has the day gone?

It’s back to the hotel where the Louisville goddess of hair, Sarah, is waiting to make us beautiful for the gala. I have to find the pictures we took of the back of Kat’s updo. Just stunning. We all look pretty glam even by the time the guys get back from the track. My filly didn’t come in, but I figure okay, I’m saving my luck for Derby. 

The guys change into their tuxes, and we’re a pretty awesome group. Head to the gala, do the Red Carpet, and dive into the crowd. They do wonderful decorations for the ballroom. Fountains of lights, flowers, so festive and elegant–and not stuffy. I need more champagne! And must check out the silent auction offerings. They benefit Blessings In A Backpack, an organization I support, so I’m happy to bid on what catches my eye. A few things did. 

We mingle, we eat, we check on my bids (still holding!), then it’s time for the first round of live auction. I got BW the Indy 500 package a couple years ago, and it’s up again. He really loved going, so I bid on it. A spirited if confusing short time later, and BW will be heading to the Indy again in 2015 or 2016 (his choice). Happy! 

Kat discovers they’ve got the photo booth up again this year. It’s a do-it-yourself, with props. We have a fun and silly time there. Can’t wait until the pictures are on line. I have some great ones from our last trip. 

Check on silent auction bids, and I’m all good. I’m kind of surprised, but pleased, no one seems overly interesting in what I’m bidding on.  

By eleven-ish, I’m beat. They’ve got some glitch with the silent auction check-out, but will handle my wins the next day. Great, because I’m ready for bed. 

Out of finery, into pjs, crash. 

Derby Day dawns, and it’s perfect weather. The kind of day tailored made for Derby. I’ve already decided California Chrome is getting my main bet. I loved his story, I loved his owner, his trainer. Everything about him works for me–and I happened to catch an interview with his owner before I dressed that morning that just cemented it. It’s not just about the race, the money with this guy. It’s first and last about the horse. I’m betting on this guy and his beautiful horse. 

I have to say, again, the four of us look pretty damn good! Traffic’s just awful, but Brian handles it. Then we’re there, that spectacular place. The spires, the crowds, the color, the excitement that’s like light in the air. Blue skies, warm breezes. Perfection.

Do the Red Carpet, funnel into the waiting area. We’re assigned a guide, and she zips us right through–knows a short cut–and wham, we’re into our area, at our table. Couldn’t have been smoother. I have to go out on the terrace first thing, because there’s nothing, just nothing, like that view. The rich brown oval of the track, the green of the infield already filled with color from the crowds, the circling stands, those spires spearing up into blue skies. But I see we have like three minutes to post on this race, grab the program. I see a horse named Faerie Dancer. Well, obviously. Ask BW to bet $10 across the board. He adds $10 for himself. I get to watch this race before I’ve gotten my bearings. And watch Faerie Dancer streak across the finish line in first. Woo! 

A most excellent start! 

Derby is first, for me, about the horses. They’re more magnificent than I can say. Watching them walk out on the track, riders up in their colorful silks, is awesome. Some of them will trot around with their companion horse like they’re saying, oh yeah, I’m ready for this. Others will have their heads together with their companion like their telling secrets. Those moments when they’re loading in the gate, the seconds before those gates open, so exciting. Then watching them run is pure thrill. Those long legs flying, the thunder of sound, the jockeys glued to their backs, it’s such a stunning experience. 

It’s also about the hats, and there are many. Big ones, tiny ones, sparkling little fascinators, whooshing wide brims that need their own zip code. Color and shape and most of all fun. 

And as we realize this is our tenth Derby, it’s also about the people we’ve met, sharing the day with them, consulting on bets, sharing wins and losses. And lots and lots of laughing.

Despite the hats, the fashion, the people, it always comes back to the horses. Anticipation builds all afternoon toward that single, spectacular two minutes. 

At the last minute, I decide to up my bet on California Chrome. I’m a pretty conservative gambler–it’s about fun for me. But I have such a good feeling about this horse. Even if he loses, I’m enchanted by his story, so I bet more on him (surely considerably less still than many of our companions) than I’ve ever bet on a horse before. 

Then I forget about the bet because it’s nearly here. 

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat, it’s glorious and heart-tugging when they play My Old Kentucky Home. Maybe it’s the tune itself, how it’s played here at the Downs before this race that spawns all the chatter and excitement, all the work of the horses, the grooms, the trainers, the hot walkers, the jockeys, but it’s a truly special moment out of time. 

And oh my, here they come for their walk around the oval to the gate. All of them gorgeous, and the crowd already cheering them. I see my horse and he’s so relaxed, like he’s thinking, I was born for this one, I’m ready. I’ve got this.

It builds and builds, that all but visible anticipation and excitement, the noise coming in waves as they approach the gate, as they’re loaded in. 

And they’re off. 

It’s simply like nothing else. Even over the oceanic roar of millions, you can hear that thunder. As I always do, I forget everything else for those two minutes–too awed to think. Somewhere in the din, the announcer’s voice is piping to tell us which horse is in the lead or coming around the outside. There’s a HUGE screen at the Downs now, so you can watch the horses when they’re on the far side of the track. 

Somewhere in the gigantic thrill of it, I pick out California Chrome, and he’s everything and more. I actually think: Yeah, you’ve got this. 

Around the final turn, streaking for the finish line, and he does that change of gears some horses can do. And oh boy, yeah, he’s got this. 

It’s wonderful to win. Fun to win. But nothing comes close to that two minute experience. 

I have to watch the replay as then I can really watch him, just him, run. That’s some horse. 

We hang out for the last two races, saying goodbye to Derby friends, back to the hotel through miserable traffic–but it can’t dim the day. 

Fall into bed early, wiped out. Up to pack. Off to the airport, and home again. 

A whole lot of fun packed into one long weekend. That’s Derby.





21 thoughts on “Derby weekend 2014”

  1. California Chrome is awesome and his owners are wonderful men! Your hat is fabulous and you look gorgeous! Glad you had such a good time.

  2. Nobody describes an event like you Nora!!! I watched the entire pre-show and all the stories of the horses and California Chromes story was just the most heart warming…and he is such a beautiful horse. Your description of the day there just made me feel like I was there. I loved your hat and outfit. That leather coat was to die for and the shoes!! OMG!! So thanks for sharing your wonderful time with us!! Hey, I’ll be at the the Indy 500 in 2015 AND hopefully 2016!!! My son lives in Indiana!! Be looking for you BW!!!

  3. I could feel her excitement’ almost like a racing commentator.It was like I was there with Nora all the way. I love horse so much, they are so majestic. I used to follow the racing with my dear departed Dad. Can’t wait for pics Nora. God I love hats and shoes.

  4. Your magic with words made it all come alive, Nora – thank you! I didn’t even know there were companion horses, are they like BFFs to keep the racers calm? Glad you had such a perfect weekend!

  5. I still wanted Wicked Strong. Local and was giving money out of the winnings to the One Fund for the survivors of the Marathon bombing.
    I didn’t realize how many events surround the Derby. Thanks for letting us in on the secrets.

  6. So glad you had fun and enjoyed the Derby! Nothing like it in this world……and there is nothing like the Downs! Mint Julips and Horses! What more do you need? LOL I am a Kentucky native, and have been to the Derby many times…… being in the stands, but the infield is an awesome party as well! You should come to Lexington sometime for the Spring or Fall meets at Keeneland……that is also a good time and really nice previews of possible Derby horses.

  7. I also noticed a horse named, “Finnegan’s Wake” and you know I thought of NR and her writings. Loved those books!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing! I watch from home, but my 9 year old tells me one day she’ll ride inthe Derby. have to reach for the starts!

  9. What a wonderful time. You have a way of enjoying the moment, no matter where you are. That is truly a blessing. Thank you for sharing……

  10. Love your hat. Seeing the Kentucky derby live is on my bucket list. I liked California Chrome’s story, yet I was also hopeful for the female jockey to win on horse Vicar’s in Trouble. Now that could be the title of a book.

  11. I watched the race on a big screen tv, while having dinner with my daughter and granddaughter. They showed some of the ladies in their hats, before the big race.
    I liked the horse Nora bet on, too. I seldom (almost never) gamble and now since OTB is closed here in NYC, had no way to bet on the Derby :-(.
    Loved Nora’s hat and shoes! Glad she had a great time. LOVED “The Collector”. In re-read phase now.

  12. As I will never attend the Derby in person, your eyewitness account was fun to read and visualize.
    And I can trust you because you’ve got a good eye and a way with words!

  13. Sounds like you just had a awesome time, and made me feel as though l was there with you all.You just have away with words as know one else.Thank you for sharing with all us fans..Your the greatest!!!!!

  14. Excellent description Nora Roberts of the great race. My Momma, Grandma and Mammy were all for Kentucky – love the state and the horses and green, green grass. Thanks for sharing your trip with your fans. Loved your dress and the hat . Peace.

  15. Sounds like a great weekend!

    And that’s an absolutely WONDERFUL cause that the gala supported!

  16. Lovely hat. I just wished someone had shown you how to wear it properly.

    1. Oh My! Previous comment was not kind. Perhaps Victoria forgot the golden rule?

  17. Love, love, love horse racing! Outside of the “finery”, for me, you could have been describing every race I’ve ever watched. I live in a horse racing town, Hot Springs, AR, and for us locals, it’s called 5th Season. We’re a resort town, and of course we have the typical four seasons. The one I look forward to the most is racing season. Delighted when the horses start returning around Thanksgiving (our season is from Jan-April). If you’re ever this direction during the spring, take a look!

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