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.


30 thoughts on “Fun and Freezing in Kentucky”

    1. I agree with you. I love her monthly letter in which we learn about her garden, her house, what she is doing in the kitchen, and her lovely Grand daughter. Who, by the way has the same name as my grand daughter who I adore.
      I have one question: How tall is BW? He looks to be at least 7 foot.

  1. What a fun remembering. Thank you.

    I have to add, in the fancy dress-up photo, it’s very clear why Roarke goes for black most of the time. It’s a very seductive look!

  2. Sounds like another wonderful year at the Derby…love that we got or live it vicariously through you. As soon as we started to watch I was looking for you in the crowd. And even though I didn’t see you I sure could picture you and your group.

  3. Thank you for taking us along for another year. Thought of you as I sat in my warm living room sipping my Jameson’s Autumn Breeze and enjoying the race.

  4. As a Kentucky girl, specifically a native, albeit relocated, Louisvillian, the weather for Derby is always a mixed bag, and this year was no exception. I live south of the city now but experience much of the same weather. Did you visit the Frazier museum with arms and such? That was built many years after I married and moved away so I have yet to tour it. So glad to hear that Rodes, purveyor of fine men’s and women’s classic and tailored clothing, is still in business. Loved to shop there. Next time you visit Louisville, be sure to check out the Oak Room and Vincenzo’s for stellar dining.

  5. My mother always goes for a gray. I go for the fire in the eyes and the lay of the ears when the horses are paraded past the stands. I enjoy the Derby from afar with your descriptions and wish to get there one day, although in California we have lots of horse racing. Happy that you had fun and came home winners.

  6. What a fabulous, fun weekend! Loved the Derby outfits! Loved your hat! I love hats and used to buy the most ridiculous ones. Thank you for sharing this adventure; it brought the Derby alive for me.

  7. So much fun to read! Thanks for making me feel like I was there. The photos are beautiful- and you looked stunning!

  8. While my husband and I were watching those fab two minutes (my kind of sport), I actually found myself looking for you and yours. We were yelling and screaming (I wanted Patch so bad!), laughing and libation-tossing. It was a fun day. So, thanks for sharing not just your day, but the Derby weekend, too. It’s fun to read about your crazy exploits. Until next year . . .

    (One quick question: are you really that short or is BW really that tall? Hahaha!)

  9. Where to begin. So much fun you had at the Derby. Your dresses were great and the hat, oh my, I love your hat. Ummmm, maybe go a little large next year – Ha! I only say that because I was looking at pictures on the internet of who (or is it whom??) wore the largest hats and you were not there. Too bad it was rainy, but sounds like a great time no matter what the weather was. You just had spa weekend and now the Derby – I bet it’s time you go back to work now. Looking forward to the next post.

  10. Loved reading about your weekend–am sitting here in Louisville now eating lunch outside–it is 84 degrees! What a difference 4 days makes!

  11. OMG this is the best recount of Derby Day! I’m so envious of you being in such a great spot for the day. Do you do the Oaks too?
    This Canadian has been to one Derby, 2007 when Street Sense won. But I wasn’t in Millionaire’s Row, I was waaaay down on the bleachers by the starting gate 😀 Still loved every minute of it. In fact, I have a romantic suspense story all plotted out titled The First Saturday In May….and guess what it revolves around? you got it, the Derby.

  12. I thoroughly enjoy the Derby through your eyes and your voice. I watch it on tv and it looks glorious, but I know, being there in reality, is even better.
    Thank you for sharing . I loooved your evening dress . You and BW were truly very dapper and gorgeous! Also, loved the derby hat you chose. ❤️

  13. I always adore the hats! And John Elefante’s voice! I need to find the CD I have of just him…somewhere… The weather was weird and cold everywhere it seemed. Ready for summer! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Speaking of John Elefante, my husband always looks at me strangely when I launch into “That’s why God made the moon” on gorgeous evenings. I just love it.

  14. So glad you enjoyed yourself here in the Derby City! I live just across the river from Louisville and love hearing a visitors view of the Derby Festival. Hopefully one day you will make it for Thunder over Louisville, the most awe-inspiring fireworks show you will ever see! As we say in Louisville… “the only place that parties for 2 weeks for a 2 minute race!”

  15. I saw some of the crazy hats online, & remembered- where is Nora’s post? You all look great- classy and elegant. I’m looking at how fine your tall drink of water looks- and i’m wondering. I’m always the one to o.k. my husband’s clothes- does B.W. do his own clothes shopping, or do you- from the pale pink tie, to the rest- he looks real fine.

  16. Thank you for making it so much more than the event in TV!

    Enjoyed living vicariously!!

  17. Just got off he phone with my daughter who was on her way to see her two horses. They got their pedi’s yesterday from her farrier and she wanted to give them a day of rest after that to ride. They are thoroughbreds named Slew and Henry and yes they are both descendants of Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and I forget whether its Man-O-War or Secretariat. They both have official registered other names. The two horses are rescues, (neither had a interest in running fast) cousins, a few months apart in age and born in Kentucky and Virginia. I thought of you at the Derby as she told me about their shoeing yesterday, then I opened the email to read this account of your Derby day just after talking with her, the mommy of two Derby descendant boys.

    Wonderful account of the Derby, thanks.

  18. Sat in the infield with a friend for the 1983 Derby. Had a blast. We could either bet or find the ladies room. After two mint juleps, guess which I picked. We signed each other’s programs as a witness to the horses picked. For the only time in my life I picked all four in order. Not a dime bet. Dang it. I watch every year and have never made it through My Old Kentucky Home without shedding a few tears.

  19. Thank you for taking the time to share Derby Day with your fans. It is how many of us are able to enjoy more than we would have without you. All of you looked great, and I loved this year’s hat!

  20. How fabulous! A dear friend of mine was there for her first Derby this year and absolutely loved it! Certainly contemplating joining her as she’s certain there will be a next time. Your special times down to the proposal sure sound like inspiration for a book! Unless of course you’ve already written one about the Derby and I’ve not read it. ??

  21. Loved reading about your post for Derby weekend and all but you got to do. My husband works for Ford Motor Company and we are originally from Michigan and got transferred down here to Louisville about 12 years ago and still had never managed to make it to Derby. It was very nice seeing it through your eyes! I love all of your books but I’d have to say the In Death series is my favorite! Keep writing you are so talented and all of us will definitely keep reading! ????????

  22. What an amazing time , going to “The ? Derby” through your words and photos !! Amazing Nora!! Totally the best !! Thank you for that fantastic time !!
    So love ❤️ love your books !!
    Many thanks ?❤️

  23. Hello Nora,

    I always so enjoy your Derby posts! How exciting to be able to go each year. I enjoyed a Derby event back in 2013 when “Orb” won. It also rained that year, but our seats were in the covered areas so we stayed dry, until we had to leave., that is. But, so what? We had attended our first Derby!

    This year we went our first Preakness Stakes. It was different from the Derby, but just as exciting. We were at a table at the Turfside Terrace with friends and we had the best time with the buffet and free wine all day.

    I so enjoy your books and admire your ability to produce so much product. Take care, and keep up the wonderful storytelling.

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