We arrived at the Muhammad Ali Center for the Ferdinand’s Ball not sure what to expect as I have never been there before. We entered the lobby and were ushered back to a press conference with Ferdinand’s Ball founders sisters Kim Boyle and Aimee Boyle Wulfeck, Peyton Siva of the University of Louisville Cards NCAA National Champion Basketball Team and official celebrity host of the Ball, Bonnie-Jill Laflin who is an NBA scout and model, Hollie Huggins a ESPN Nascar expert, and Old Friends founder Michael Blowen.
Peyton Siva, Holly Huggins, Bonnie-Jill Laflin, and Michael Blowen answer questions from the media.
At the press conference Ferdinand’s Ball founders Kim and Aimee were asked how they came about creating this event. They said they visited Old Friends Equine, the beneficiary of the event, talked to Old Friend’s founder Michael Blowen about the plight of Kentucky Derby winning horse Ferdinand who was standing at stud in Japan when he was sent to slaughter there after his breeding career ended. This is the reason Michael Blowen started Old Friends to provide a place for a dignified retirement for Thoroughbreds whose racing or breeding careers had ended. They are the only Thoroughbred retirement facility that takes stallions. Kim and Amee decided there should be a Derby event that fund raised for the Thoroughbreds themselves after their relatively short racing careers were over and they needed a safety net to ensure they had a good life afterwards, thus Ferdinand’s Ball was created. That first year was not easy for the sisters to get sponsors as the businesses they approached did not know who they were and were wary of sponsoring the event. Four years later things have changed dramatically for their event.
Ferdinand's Ball founders Kim Boyle and Aimee Boyle Wulfeck get their photo taken with host Peyton Siva.
I asked Peyton Siva how he felt about having such an incredible experience of winning the NCAA National Championship as part of the U of L Card’s Basketball Team. He responded that it was an incredible experience, one he would never forget. As for agreeing to be the host for this year’s Ferdinand’s Ball he said being from Seattle there isn’t much in the way of horse racing up there but since coming to Louisville he has learned about and admired the athleticism of the thoroughbred horse and that it was his way of giving back to the community that has been so supportive. The founders of Ferdinand’s Ball sisters Kim and Amee said when they asked Peyton if he would be the host of their Ball this year there was no hesitation on his part and he immediately said yes. I couldn’t help but ask the question as to who he was going to bet on in the Derby. With a big grin he said he had to go with Coach Pitino’s horse Goldencents. I must say he was a very gracious host and allowed many adoring guests to have their photos taken with him and allowed the media to interview him. He appeared to be really enjoying himself.
Peyton Siva answers questions at the press conference held before the Ball.
When regular Ferdinand Ball attendees Bonnie-Jill Laflin and Holly Huggins were asked how they got involved with Ferdinand’s Ball they also said it was from visiting Old Friends Equine and meeting charismatic Old Friends founder Michael Blown, who will tell visitors to the retirement facility about the plight of the many retiring Thoroughbreds who come off the racetrack at a young age that need new homes or who are needing somewhere else to go when their breeding careers end. They wanted to support Michael and they admired what he was doing at Old Friends for the horses.
Celebrity guests Bonnie-Jill Laflin and Holly Huggins pose on the red carpet with event founders Kim Boyle and Aimee Boyle Wulfeck.
Old Friends founder Michael Blowen explained about what had happened with Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand and how all the horses at Old Friends had together won $90,000,000 in purses and in the breeding shed probably earned approximately a billion dollars in breeding fees. He felt they had earned a dignified retirement and he made sure it happened by founding Old Friends. He thanked Kim and Amee for having the event and making Old Friends the beneficiary, and Peyton for coming aboard as host, and for the continuing support of Laflin and Huggins.
Old Friends founder Michael Blowen answers questions from the media at the press conference.
Other celebrity guests in attendance were ESPN sports caster Jeannine Edwards, Olympic swimmers and Louisville natives Caroline Burckle who won a bronze medal in the Olympics, and her brother and fellow Olympic swimmer Clark Burckle. Tom Bulleit who is the founder of Bulleit Bourbon was also in attendance. Award winning artist Donna Bernstein once again created her equine masterpiece that was auctioned off at the event. She has an exhibit going on at the Brown Gallery. Matt Jones and Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio were in attendance. We also spotted local favorite talk show host Terry Meiners and wife who attended last year’s event also.
ESPN Sportscaster Jeannine Edwards poses on the red carpet for media.
After the press conference guests and celebrities alike walked the red carpet for photo opportunities from media then guests were directed to the LeRoy Neiman Gallery and the adjoining outdoor Brown-Foreman Pavillion for cocktails and appetizers. The view of the surrounding city and river were fabulous. Interviews were conducted by the media in this outdoor setting of the various celebrities in attendance. At this point we discovered that the player who played center for the U of L’s NCAA National Championship Basketball Team had arrived. He could not be missed as he towered over everyone else, Gorgui Dieng had arrived. Dieng quickly became a favorite for guests to get their photos taken with and he was very gracious and polite with guests and allowed the media to interview him.
The view of the cityscape was amazing for guests to enjoy.
It became time to head up to the View Pointe Hall and View Pointe North for the main event, which provided great views of the cityscape. Guests dined on some delicious gourmet appetizers and enjoyed the open bars provided by Bulleit Bourbon, Tito’s Vodka, and Arabella Wines. Fabulous silent auction items were on display including some pretty amazing sports and music items that were autographed by famous personalities. Louisville’s favorite party band, The Crashers, had guests up dancing and put on a great show. Guests were also having a great time with the Magnolia Photo Booth as they could dawn hats and other costume items for their photos.
Guests dined on delicious gourmet appetizers.
The Crashers had the dance floor full with guests dancing the night away.
The time came for Jockey Rosie Napravnik to receive her Ferdinand’s Award for her support of Old Friends and ethical thoroughbred retirement. When Michael Blowen gave her the award he urged the guests to bet on Rosie and her horse Mylute in the 139th Kentucky Derby and the crowd cheered her. He also wished her well in winning the Oaks again this year, she won it last year. Mylute’s owner, Paul Bulmahn, was on hand for the occasion.
Old Friends Founder Michael Blowen presents Jockey Rosie Napravnik with the Ferdinand's Award.
Congrats to sisters Aimee and Kim as they have taken this event a very long way since that first year and it was a smashing success ladies.
What a great venue for Ferdinand's Ball.
After hanging around and listening to The Crashers it was time to head home. As I was driving through downtown Louisville I saw many limousines, most likely carrying Derby guests around this fabulous town, and between attending Ferdinand’s Ball and seeing all those limos I went home with a big smile on my face. There is only one place you can go to experience the Kentucky Derby and it is in Louisville, Kentucky.
View our slide show below for many more photos taken at this event.
Photos: Courtesy of Anna Marie Blanton