The First Saturday in May

There’s nothing like Derby, and we’re so fortunate to go every year. The experience continues to be amazing, entertaining, special and just plain fun.

Kat and Jason joined us this year (baby’s first Derby!) as we flew out Thursday morning. For an added treat, two long-time pals planned to attend this year, and though the generosity of our fabulous hosts and spectacular coordinators, the York sisters, were included in some of our fun.

We touched down after some showers to a pretty day, happily met by our Derby pals, Kathy our usual host and Brian our cop. Family reunion! Time to transfer luggage and people into the cars and head off for lunch. Kathy, Kat and I catch up along the drive. We’re not going to have our Kathy all weekend this time as her son’s being promoted to Captain (US Army) and his pinning ceremony’s on Friday. We have to fit a lot of Kathy into a short amount of time.

Good food, good company, and it’s off to the hotel to visit with Kathy a little more, to unpack. Then Kathy’s off for her eight-hour drive–good mom–and our Kat (mom-to-be) takes a little nap.

It’s Club Night, and time dude it up a little. And here come Isabel and Stephen! Our schedules haven’t meshed in way too long, so this is really special treat. Isabel was my fantabulous editor for most of my run at Silhouette. It’s so good to see them, and as they’re Derby virgins, to introduce them to the whole experience.

They’ve had a few days in the area already, done bourbon tours, visited the backside at the Downs, soaked up plenty of barbecue, so they’re primed.

Club Night brings us all together with our Derby family. It’s great to see familiar faces, do more catching up. And in a venue like the Frazier Museum, it’s a terrific kick-off. We’ve got food, drink, music, poker–and best of all friends.

And a totally cool exhibit. The museum’s showcasing Mona Bismark. Who’s that? you say. So did I. She was a famous local socialite, fashion queen and much photographed beauty (with pals like Salvador Dali) who reigned for decades. We get to see samples of her wardrobe from the 40s to 70s, and it’s amazing. The photographs, the handwritten letters to and from her, the collection of shoes! All of it. Gorgeous gowns, sleek suits, all showing the fascinating changes in fashion.

My favorite, hand down? Cocktail pajamas! This is a fashion statement I can get behind all the way. Mona, with this one concept, you are my hero.

Cocktail pajamas. Photo by Isabel
Description of pjs Photo by Isabel.

We eat, drink, mix, mingle, enjoy. And it’s a lovely night, walk the four or five blocks back to our hotel. Which gave us a chance to admire the biggest Louisville Slugger in the world.

#randomkatness Louisville style. Photo by kat

Fall into bed. Friday’s going to be a long one.

And it’s a gorgeous day. The guys, in Brian’s care, are headed to the Oaks and sporting pink. We girls, with Ann as our host, are off for nails at the best nail salon anywhere, imo, City Nails. As you can see, our pedis are magnificent!

Stephen, BW and Jason sport pink accents for Oaks Day. Photo by BW
Pedi-ready for the Gala. Photo by NR

After getting ourselves buffed and polished, it’s time for lunch. Ann makes it easy, hauling us around Louisville. Isabel and I split a grilled cheese sandwich. It should have a loftier name as it’s warm, melty brie inside toasted sour dough. I will never looked at a grilled cheese the same again. Match that with a bowl of thick, herby tomato soup, add a mimosa? Oh boy.

Our adorable waiter brought up a little sample of the Lily signature drink (Fillies for the Lilies today). When we told him Kat was pregnant (and I’d take her sample!) he went back and made her a non-alcoholic version.

Then it’s off to Rode’s to meet up with Beth and the team for some shopping. Always so much fun! And they’ve hunted up some very cool shoes for BW’s size 14 feet. It’s tradition for Father’s Day. BW gets a pair of very cool shoes, and our gal at Rode’s really came through.

I buy two scarves because they’re gorgeous, a really snappy hoodie, an excellent linen sheath dress and well, more.

Now it’s back to the hotel to meet up with Sarah who’ll make our hair look fabulous for the gala. And boy, does she.

The guys come back from their day at The Oaks. I think my pick for the big race, My Miss Lily (a gray) came in dead last. Oh well.

Now it’s seriously dude it up time for the Unbridled Eve gala.

I believe we pulled this off very well.

UnBridled Eve Gala ready (l-r) Stephen, Isabel, BW, Nora, Jason & Kat. Photo by BW’s camera.
Nora and BW on the red carpet. Photo by j a-b

Down to check in, hit the red carpet. Spot another Derby pal, and as we chat she points out she’s bringing a little something extra this year. She’s got a very sweet baby bump. I tell her Kat’s expecting, too, ask when she’s due. October. So’s Kat. I call Kat over, ask what day in October. 15th. Kat’s due the 17th! A sweet moment of serendipity.

This is Unbridled’s big night, full of music, color, stunning tablescapes. They have a couple of live auctions through the evening, and a silent one that runs all through. The proceeds benefit excellent causes, Blessings In A Backpack and The Jennifer Lawrence Foundation. It’s all about the kids, so bid generously!

I do! I have my handy phone app for the night, scout out the offerings–so much generously donated!–pick my targets.

Move through the crowd and into the ballroom. I buy a table every year (excellent causes) so we have our six, our Ann, and the fabulous Mike Mills (R.E.M) who we know from Derbys past. The music’s already rocking with The Crashers, a hot local band who performs every year at the event.

The gorgeous table decorations. Photo by j a-b

The entertainment’s seriously loaded this year–and one of the highlights is a set headed by Dennis Quaid. The man who played Jerry Lee Lewis can really rock it out. And the man who uttered one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies (The Big Easy–Your luck’s about to change, cher.) really gets the crowd moving.

Dennis Quaid, rocker. Photo by BW

Another highlight is John Rzeznik–Goo Goo Dolls lead singer, and his set. Wowzer! Then he auctions off the guitar he played. Nice.

Yet another highlight in an evening full of them is the big live auction. It includes a catered dinner by Paul Sorvino and his wife–known for the culinary skills–10 tickets to next year’s Oaks, 10 for the Derby–in the Jockey Suite at the Downs. This is big stuff.

The bidding’s pretty lively, and begins to top off at about 30k. You’re to hold up the lighted number of your table to bid. Toward the end, Stephen asks Jason to pass it to him. Honestly, I thought he just wanted to see it. But no, up it goes. And Stephen wins the bid! Obviously we’ve done an excellent job introducing them to Derby. And we’ll see them here next year!

I do my own (much smaller) part with the silent auction, and bag my Baubles, Beatles and Baccarat. Perfect. Lovely diamond hoops, a framed, backed on wood, picture of the Abbey Road cover (a fave), and six gorgeous Baccarat champagne flutes.

We have to hit the photo booth for fun, drag Mike and Ann along with us. Can’t wait to see how our shots turn out.

We’re done–and tomorrow’s Derby. My only regret of the weekend is hearing Quaid came back late and hit the dance floor with the crowd. Really sorry I missed that.

Derby Day. Rain. The weather guy insists the worst will miss us and it’s going to clear by midday. Glad I didn’t bet on him! It will be the wettest Derby in Derby history before it’s done, but we don’t let that dampen our experience.

Set for the Derby. Photo by BW
Baby’s first Derby day. Photo by BW
Ready for Derby! Photo by BW

And, again, we look fabulous!

Another red carpet, and up we go to Millionaire’s Row. We get there before the third race–we want as much of the day as we can pack in. And I walk straight out to the terrace to take it in. It may be gray and gloomy, but the track is just stunning, as always. The richness of the dirt, the brilliance of the grass, the beauty of the twin spires, none of it ever loses its magic for me.

photo by j a-b

Back in to greet our traditional server. When Amy sees Kat’s pregnant, she vows to take extra special care of her. And she does.

Pick a horse, bet, win. Yay.

Our little group huddles with our programs, picking horses by our own methods. Names, colors, jockey or trainers–whatever works. And as Jason points out: They’re horses, so who knows?

Kat’s hat at the Derby. Photo by NR
Family shot at the Derby. Photo by BW
Tonya York Dees and Nora. Photo by BW.

I actually do reasonably well through the day–hit a couple good ones.

It’s even more fun when pals join us. Here’s Anita and Cate–and don’t they look great? Here’s Robert Williamson. There’s James–in his tie of real rosebuds, and his ridiculously beautiful wife, Lisa.

And on and on.

But now it’s coming up to time for the big one. I’ve gone with Mendelssohn — he’s got an Irish trainer and being hyped. Not the favorite, that’s Justify, but I think a good pick. Figure out a few more to put some money on, figure out how to box the favorite with a couple, pick out horses I’ll bet for the grandkids.

Now the excitement’s building and building. The track is beyond muddy–it’s going to be a sloppy ride.

Bets placed, terrace packed as they play My Old Kentucky Home. It always tugs at the heart. They’re in the gate, and the noise is amazing. But as they leap out of the gate, that amazing noise rises more, a wall of cheers for those stunning horses and their riders.

It seems my colt got bumped right out of the gate–and I can see he’s not likely to make up the ground. Doesn’t matter, because wow, they’re so beyond beautiful, so strong, so fast. Justify has this, you can see it even by the first turn. He’s just magnificent. I do catch that the horses I picked for two of the kids are really moving. (And I boxed one of them for me with Justified, made yet another bet for myself on one of them.

Then I lose all of that as they come around the final turn. The mud’s flying so horses and riders are coated with it. But those horses, they fly, too. Down the backstretch, and that thunder joins the cheers.

Two minutes, two astounding minutes.

Justify takes it. Kayla’s horse comes in second, Colt’s third. (Sorry, Logan.) 

Justify, the cleanest horse in the race, wins the Derby. Photo by BW

We stay for the last two races. Say goodbye to our Derby family, Head out in the insistent rain to have a late (for us country folk) room service dinner.

Then it’s goodbye to Isabel and Stephen–knowing our schedules will mesh for at least this first Saturday in May next year.

Up in the morning to pack, organize–we leave with much more than we came with–head down to Kathy and Brian. Gorgeous day, of course. Hugs by the plane, a last picture.

Farewell shot with Derby family — Kathy (center) and Brian, next to BW.

Our pilot warns us we could hit some weather in Hagerstown. It’s the same damn system that hit Louisville the day before. I’m a poor flyer anyway, but I tell myself to suck it up. We’re only in the air for an hour.

Our luck holds–and a lot of that luck is due to Jac and Joe in the cockpit. How they skimmed us through the two systems and kept us clear and smooth, I’ll never know. But we land in rainy Hagerstown
without me having to use the power of my mind to keep us safe.

Now it’s bye to my babies. (All three!) And home to happy dogs and a garden that’s already popping.

Another wonderful three days in Louisville with its color, its warm hospitality, its really good food and the best two minutes in sports.

See you next May!


40 thoughts on “The First Saturday in May”

  1. Thank you so much for such a detailed report. It was like being there. But, I have to say, that table decoration blew my socks off. I have never seen one as beautiful.

  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful time. I appreciate it and you for describing it every year. Now. You had the blue pedi, right? I think of Mavis every time I see your style. ?

    1. No, mine’s the teal with the pink accent toe. Kat’s the silver, Isabel’s the blue.

  3. WOW, what a great weekend!! All the details and local color!! Thank you for taking us along with you!!

  4. I so love her trip to the Derby each year!
    Beautiful photos, and I had a great experience via, blog and photos!
    Thank you Nora for including us in your adventure.

  5. Wow! Just reading about your three days wore me out! What fun, and you all looked just beautiful. The hats were spectacular, as always. Glad you had such fun and many thanks for sharing again.

  6. I’m a Louisville native and your Derby comments, always so positive , make me proud of my city. Glad you enjoyed your stay. Maybe next year the sun really will shine bright on my old Kentucky home!

  7. I look forward to reading about your Derby adventures every year, and this did not disappoint! You looked fab for the ball and those Derby hats sported by you and Kat are nothing less than spectacular. Kat is looking beautiful and has that lovely pregnancy glow about her. You are so beautiful Nora- hard to believe you are about to be Nana of four. Thanks for the lovely and colorful post. Happy May!

  8. Thank you for allowing us into your world and being so magical with your words. I feel like I was there for just a moment.

  9. I just knew that you would be sending us an update…but..I was still looking for you on Great hats!! Pulled out my Irish Thorougbred hard cover and went right to the races. Now time for you to really enjoy your gardens…and we get to enjoy your updates:)

  10. Quaid’s line from The Big Easy is my favorite, too! I need to rewatch that movie. Thanks for sharing your weekend with us.?

  11. I just love your way with words it makes the whole weekend come alive for those of us who could not be there. Sounds like you all had a great time, glad to hear it and maybe someday I will get the chance to see the races for my self, you have definitely got me interested.

  12. Unfortunately, Derby Day is often more rainy than sunny and sometimes chilly to boot. Rule of thumb here in the Bluegrass is to wait until after Derby to plant annuals. It rained all day at my house in Corvette City (aka Bowling Green) 90 miles south of my hometown Louisville. Your recount of your Derby adventures never fails to entertain and make me a bit homesick. I had to Google where they hold the Unbridled Eve gala since that event didn’t start until after I moved away when the Kentucky Derby festivities only encompassed a week. A real treat is Thunder Over Louisville which happens two weeks prior to Derby. You should bring your grand children and book several rooms riverside at the Galt House. That’s the only way to go.

  13. Thanks so much for sharing your weekend. I always watch on tv and try to pick the winner. I guessed right on your toes, lol! Your table at the auction looked wonderful. Fun times!

  14. My Old Kentucky Home chokes me up every year. My late mother, my sisters and I sat on Millionaires Row for opening day at the Downs (the weekend before the Derby) for several years. It is a fabulous place to watch the races. Glad y’all had a good time.

  15. As we watched the Derby from our duck club and we screamed our hearts out, I tried to imagine it through your eyes. Now that I’ve read about it, I believe it was every bit as fascinating as you described. (I cheered for Justify, but my heart was on Firenze Fire because that’s what I named my new car last summer.) Thanks for the fun read and the fab pics too. I love your Derby dress and your fascinator. Classy. Glad you’re home safe with the boy dogs; have a great week!

  16. Another wonderful time at another Derby! Love Kat’s and your hats – gorgeous! Thank you for sharing!

  17. Nora, as you were enjoying your three days in Kentucky, my sister and I came down from Canada to enjoy our stay at Inn Boonsboro for the Wellness retreat hosted by Heidi. Sorry we missed you, but a fabulous time was had by all in Boonsboro!!!

  18. Nora, thank you for your generosity in taking time to share that wonderful fun with us. I do just wonder……….. what would EVE be wearing to the Derby??!! 🙂

    1. I just have to say it, Donna, whatever Roarke picked out and had packed for her! But I’d bet she’d prefer to be in boots & jeans!

  19. Now I can officially risk the Kentucky Derby from my wish list 😉 been-there-did-that and without leaving the sofá from where I lived it vicariously with yoru detailed report 🙂
    Thank you Nora! I wouldn’t be able to wear those magnificent red shoes so why even bother ?! 😉
    In love with Kat’s first gala gown – the black one with silver accents. Besides gorgous – thank you hormones – hair-do <3 LOVE IT!
    You are a Blessing and Blessed in Love, Nora!!! It's so inspiring to read and witness. Thank you for sharing you, yours and all with us

  20. Oh my, I am thrilled every year with the Derby and able to read first hand from you is awesome.
    Photos are great. I think that Kat is so beautiful but really looks tired. It’s probably just being pregnant that makes one look more tired than they are.
    I am delighted reading your adventures can at the Derby and the Guys, whoa what a handsome group.
    Have a great week. Beth Reed

  21. The Derby post every year is one I always look forward to. I love how much detail we get and all the pictures! Thanks for sharing, Nora!

  22. I love your Derby post. You looked liked a regal tall glass of grey elegance. I still can’t believe that Kat made her hat- i noticed it looks like it has pearl strands on the sides- what a talented girl! And Yeah for october babies- mine is october 8- here’s to us creative libra girls!

  23. I love reading about the Derby every year. Your outfits and hats are gorgeous. I was wondering the make of Kat’s (I think) sandals from the pedicure picture. They look very comfortable.

  24. Love love your Derby trips. You all look so chic and loved your red shoes and Kat is glowing. Such a fun time especially with the cool special guests. Enjoy and thank you for sharing

  25. I love reading about the Derby every year. Beautiful as always. Kat looks stunning being pregnant! The outfits looked Amazing! And those Hats!! ?? love seeing the hats. Nora do you keep all of your Derby Hats? That would be another Amazing display. And I could get behind Cocktail pajamas any day!!! Much love and happiness to you and your family

  26. It was so lovely meeting you late at Unbridled Eve, everyone that knows me know how I love your books. Now I have an autographed copy and a photo with you. Completely made my day. Thank you for being so approachable. Maybe one day we will meet again.

  27. What a fantastic time!!! Love the hats….and this time they really brightened a very rainy day!!!

    You have a gift for making all of us feel as if we were right there with you…thank you!

    Cannot wait for next year’s account!!!

  28. I always enjoy reading your derby weekend account! Thank you so very much for including us in this adventure. Sounds like you had a glorious time with friends!

  29. Thank you Nora for another Derby experience. I was with you in picking Mendelssohn I seem to always pick with my heart and not a favorite. Irish horse, trainer and jockey what could be better. Maybe next year!

  30. I wondered about y’all with all the pouring rain while I was watching Justify win.

  31. As a life long native. You need to come for This by. It’s just as wild and lots of fun. It a day for us locals. The rest is for the out if towners. I love your outfits and so glad you came.

  32. As always, it’s so much fun to read your detailed account of your Derby trip. Wishing all the best to Kat and her expected little one. Congratulations to all!

  33. I look forward to your Derby post every year. And your vacation ones, too. It’s the next best thing to being there.
    Since I couldn’t be there, I was at a Derby party here in CO put on by our local horse council. I rooted for Magnum Moon, because I had picked up a jacket with a huge patch of his sire, Malibu Moon, when I was in Lexington several years ago. The Derby didn’t work out so well for him.
    Thanks for the Big Easy reference. It’s one of my favorites, too. I’ll be digging out my DVD now.
    Best wishes to Kat and the whole family. Have a great summer.

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