First Saturday Dismay

Last year, after the pandemic postponed Kentucky Derby 146 from May to September (without fans), we talked to folks about what the Derby means to us as Louisvillians.



Interviews by Bruce Allar, Rachel Amin, Bill Doolitte, Michelle Eigenheer, Christine Fellingham, Tom Johnson, Michael L. Jones, Sarah Kelley, Jenni Laidman, Mark Long, Anne Marshall, Brandon Quick and Josh Wood

"You're not the oldest continuously run sporting event in America without being able to be resilient."
Photo by Andrew Hyslop



A September to remember is what I would say about moving the Derby date. I think most people will come. It’s so close to the fabric of who we are in Louisville that I think the city will celebrate. It could well be the perfect release. I have high confidence Churchill will be able to re-create an event with high standards like they always do — and people will come. You’re not the oldest continuously run sporting event in America without being able to be resilient.”


— Karl Schmitt, president and CEO, Louisville Sports Commission, former communications executive at Churchill Downs






As a jockey, we all are in pursuit of the Kentucky Derby because it’s the dream. Just the fact that you get there is quite the achievement, and you want to get back again. You want to do it right so you can go back again.


“It will be interesting to see what 2020 turns out to be in the racing industry. I’m on the bench right now, recovering from an injury. I’m a spectator watching like everybody else. I guess it’s not a bad time to be on the bench.”


— Jon Court, jockey






I can see the horses slowly being moved into the barns, and then, suddenly in April, it all comes to life. 


“My Derby Day routine is this: Usually we visit the backside early in the morning. I get passes, so we’ll go to the barns and see the horses. Then I park people in my yard, collect all that money and it basically bankrolls me for the whole Oaks and Derby. It enables me to be a pretty big bettor once a year. Later in the day, I’ve got TVs on the deck behind the house. We wager online and grill out and watch the races on the deck. That’s the routine. I’m close enough I can actually see the barns, and when they come out of the gate, I can hear the roar of the crowd. We can hear the tempo of the crowd build up as they get close to the finish line.”


— Dwayne Davidson, grew up near Churchill Downs and now lives a stone’s throw from the track






You know the tote boards that show how much was bet on each race to win, place and show, all lit up with lights? I remember when they didn’t have that. It was a great big giant chalkboard, probably eight feet tall and 20 feet long. This man got up there on a catwalk, probably 12 to 15 feet in the air, with an eraser, and when a race ended, he would erase all the previous race results, and he would put in the win, place and show. He had beautiful handwriting for the numbers. They were all slanted. It was so stylish. And people would gather around the tote boards to find out how much money they would get.


“When I was a teenager, they would open the gates after the seventh race (on regular race days) — you could go in free. A lot of people did that. As teenage boys, Mom would usually give you 50 cents lunch money, but we wouldn’t eat lunch. The four of us would take our 50 cents and go in there and buy a $2 show ticket on the favorite. The favorite probably paid about $2.80.”


­— Ron Geary, born and raised on Arcade Avenue, still lives near the track and is president of the Wilder Park Neighborhood Association






I started in 1947, before you were born. I’m 86 now. But I was a U of L student when they came out and solicited clerks to work Derby time. I guess it got in my blood because I’ve been there since then, minus three years that Uncle Sam had my services during the Korean War.


“Stick around long enough, you’ll hear a tip on every horse in the race.” 


— Lovell Bush, Churchill Downs mutual department office manager (2015 Derby Issue)






Everybody’s used to cranking these things up to be ready for the first Saturday in May. All my travel, all my trips to Florida to look over my primary clientele, are based on that. This throws a huge wrench in everything — in scheduling, in planning. I think this particular Derby is going to be one with an asterisk. Right now, everything is up in the air.”


— Steve Allday, veterinarian to four Derby winners and several Horse of the Year winners, among them Triple Crown winner American Pharoah

Photo by Adam Mescan



I love Derby because it is a clash of cultures. It is the most colorful, wonderful, vibrant just assault on your senses. When we get to September, we’ll be ready to celebrate for certain, but I think it’s going to be kind of sad this spring.


“We have our biggest and most lucrative rental client of the year for Thunder Over Louisville, where our rooftop view is amazing. The client pays to own the whole building for a day. That’s a big hit this year. We’re in the museum business, and right now we have no revenue, we have no attendance, we have no facility rentals, we have no museum store, we have no parking lot. We’re trying to manage it from a business standpoint. 


“Gosh, I sure as heck hope we get back to some semblance of normal in our lives. Everybody has a level of uncertainty, and I think a lot of that uncertainty is probably because we don’t know how long this is going to last. I hope that by the first Saturday in May I can go to a restaurant with my wife or to the park with my kids. I hope that the Frazier History Museum is back open and serving people in person instead of virtually. I hope that my daughter, who’s a senior in high school, gets some of the end of the school year. I hope she gets a prom. She plays lacrosse and their season just got flushed. I would love nothing more than to go watch both of my kids play a lacrosse game on the first Saturday in May if we can’t have a Kentucky Derby.”


— Andy Treinen, president and CEO of Frazier History Museum






I don’t get to attend, but I have the TV on all day watching all the races and the fashion and fan antics. We just have to wait a little longer for that high.”


— Martha Bennett, Dove Creek






In Kentucky, we were born into it. Our grandparents and great-grandparents had such a sense of pride taking us to the track. When we were old enough, our first bet was a rite of passage. Forget politics and religion; let’s go to the farm and watch the horses run through the fields.”


 — Pam Stallings, Middletown

Photo by Joey Harrison



I love the races. I watch every single one from home. Never have gone to the Derby, only to Oaks. It’s a bucket-list item to be in the grandstand or on Millionaires Row one day. My grandma, Maw, loved this time of year. She lived closer to the track, and we used to always be able to see the planes that would fly over her house. She loved the excitement of it, and I definitely got that love of it from her!” 


— anonymous, Auburndale






I remember sitting on my front porch as a kid with my grandma on Barret Avenue watching the floats line up. This was my first memory of the Derby celebration. I live out of town half the year, and I tell everyone about how amazing Kentuckians and the Derby are.” 


— Jessi Powell






Derby means Great-Uncle Joe DeSopo, who emigrated to this country sometime before 1900, and then married my grandmother’s sister. Having no children, he treated us as his grandkids when we visited the DeSopos on Deer Park Avenue. With a third-grade education, he was very astute, and made enough, even during the Great Depression, to buy one or two racehorses and stable them at Churchill Downs. One horse was his star and won a stakes race at Keeneland in 1939. We have the sterling-silver trophy cup, engraved with the horse’s name — Tunica, sired by Desperate Desmond — the date, and Great-Uncle Joe’s name. Every Derby, when we have a family party, we pull horses’ names from the trophy. That’s Derby for this Italian-American family.”


 — Felicia Spugnardi Ray, Valley Station

Photo by Mickie Winters
"These horses have a short window and they deserve their shot. Next year they'll be too old."
Photo by Andrew Hyslop



The Bluegrass is all about sex from late winter to early spring. It’s sex, sex, sex all the livelong day. For the horses, it travels through the air like crazy-making perfume. A few miles from Derby, 2008 Derby winner Big Brown capers along the fence as he senses the action in the air at Three Chimneys Farm. This is how the Derby starts, not in the prep races, not at the training track, but here, with sex. Lots and lots of horsey sex.”


— from a story by Jenni Laidman (2010 Derby Issue)






I’ll be honest with you, though — I’ve been with the police department since 1979, and the police are a lot more tolerant on Derby Day than they usually are. They’ll give you every chance to stop your behavior and move on. But when you don’t follow their advice, chances are you’re going to get to take a ride.” 


— Maj. Steve Green (2010 Derby Issue)






Before breakfast.” 


— Jim Hafendorfer, host of Hillbilly Outfield Derby bash, on when it’s too early to start drinking on Derby Day (2010 Derby Issue)

Photo by Mickie Winters



We rely on a surge of business from Derby in the months of March and April. It’s our busiest time. Not only for minor procedures, but aesthetic treatments like chemical peels and microdermabrasion — it’s sort of a buff-and-shine prior to Derby.


“In medical school, we went to the third turn in the infield. The biggest challenge was, of course, sneaking in alcohol at that time. And in fact, we volunteered for the medical service at Churchill Downs and filled IV bags with vodka to sneak them in. We didn’t do any medical care, but we went in ostensibly as medical volunteers with IV bags filled with vodka.”


— Sean Maguire, plastic surgeon, owner of Physician’s Center for Beauty on Chenoweth Lane






I had one kid, it was Derby Day, and he had stayed up all night and he had had, I don’t know, 20 or 25 Red Bulls and all this vodka and he said he was not going to fall asleep and miss the Derby. Well, his blood pressure was about 200, his heart rate was about 150, and I said, ‘I’m sorry, you are going to miss the Derby. You’re going to the hospital.’”


 — Churchill Downs medical director Dr. Bayard Rice (2017 Derby Issue)






My husband and I lived away from Kentucky for more than 13 years. He was in the military, and we made a home wherever we found ourselves, whether that was Washington State, Washington, D.C., Germany or several places in between. I like to think we thrived in each of our homes, but there was one day a year that truly made our time away from Louisville the hardest. It wasn’t Christmas, although we missed our family terribly; it was Derby Day. Although we made every effort to share our Derby love and knowledge with new friends, there is nothing like being in Louisville on Derby Day — the sights, the sounds, the energy, the excitement. I have never felt lonelier in my life than the Derby I found myself 4,000 miles away from home listening to thousands of my fellow Kentuckians sing along to ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ on the first Saturday in May.”


 — Amy Parish, Jeffersontown

Photo by Mickie Winters


"Racing's like a disease, like a drug. You get addicted to it." — three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel (2008 Derby issue)
Photo by Ted Tarquinio



Derby to me means home. Having left Louisville in 1996 for Dallas, then Atlanta, and now Charlotte, anytime someone asks where I am from, I proudly say Louisville, Kentucky. In turn, I get, ‘Oh, home of the Kentucky Derby.’ I come home to Louisville often, but no trip is like when it is Derby.” 


— Stacey Bald, Charlotte, North Carolina 






Derby Day is my favorite holiday. I will happily work every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, but whether I go to the track or not, Derby and Oaks are my days to celebrate all my favorite things: horses, pretty hats, Kentucky and bourbon. I was devastated when it got moved, but I’m trying to change my mind from sadness to #fallingforderby.” 


— Elizabeth Reichert






It’s a time when our city and all the people who live here really shine. The best part may be the month before when we all start to say, ‘Let’s get back on that after Derby.’ It just won’t be spring without it.” 


— Candace Jaworski, Old Louisville






I grew up wanting to be a jockey. I would lay on the floor and watch TV all day leading up to the race. I always loved horses, like every little girl in the ’80s. And I just had it in my head that I would be the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. I was the only 12-year-old I knew who had a subscription to the BloodHorse.


“We’ve watched the Derby everywhere — from the casino at French Lick to a random bar in Michigan, where they wouldn’t even turn the volume on, and I was incredibly upset. We used to have a house in Detroit, and we would go back and forth. We hosted our own Derby party there one year, and that’s where I realized that the world doesn’t revolve around Derby for everybody in the world. Because A) We were able to buy fresh mint, on the day of, which is hilarious, and B) I mentioned that we were going to watch the Derby to someone and they said, ‘Oh, do you do roller derby?’ And I’m like, ‘What are you even talking about? No, the Derby.’ 


“We rented our house out at Derby for a number of years. Especially since we moved into a big old house in Old Louisville, that income is a pretty sizable chunk of our operating budget for the year, because we bought this house with the intent of paying for it with Airbnb. We have two Airbnbs, and all bookings are either canceled by the guest or I’ve canceled them. So we obviously hope to recoup some of that this September, if everything is back in action. But it’s really hard to say at this point. That feels like it’s a long time away.


“It’s almost too big to comprehend the impact this will have on the city, on the hospitality industry — on really every aspect of life in Louisville. Our year revolves around Derby: Everything is either before Derby or after Derby. It’s such an economic impact for restaurants; that’s like their Black Friday. My husband and I, before all this happened, were actually talking pretty seriously about opening a boutique motel. And when we did some preliminary numbers on whether that would be feasible, it was not until I remembered Derby and put in Derby numbers that, all of a sudden, it had the potential to be profitable. Without that, I don’t know how a lot of our businesses will make it.


“On the first Saturday in May this year, I wonder if people will have fake ‘not’ Derby parties, if we can even be around each other again by then. I hope we can. I hope we can have a big celebration to say we can be around people again.”


— Dana McMahan, freelance journalist, Airbnb host






I love to go to the barn in the morning. It’s such a relaxing thing to see these beautiful animals — to try to get a little closer to them. When it’s sunny out and you can see the gleam in their coats, it’s quite a feeling.”


— Jerry Moss, racehorse owner and co-founder of A&M Records (2017 Derby Issue)






My first Derby was 2006. It was rainy; there were lots of tarps brought into the infield. I remember it being more like what I thought NASCAR would be like. I thought Derby was this really fancy thing, and then I remember coming in and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ There was a dude with a full Anheuser Busch tattoo on his back — like his entire back was the Anheuser Busch Eagle. And, like, he was lying facedown in a puddle. That was my first image of Derby, and I was like: ‘All right, I get it. It’s not this classy thing.’”


­— Peter Tower, co-founder of Magnolia Photo Booth Co.






I think my favorite part is — it’s kind of like everyone’s favorite part — we get to have a lot of people experience Louisville from other cities who may not have ever been, and it’s something that brings them in, and they end up loving the city. I always love talking to people who have that experience.” 


— Shaina Wagner, event producer, Airbnb host






Derby is a time when I connect with certain friends and family to share special memories and moments. It is a time that I get all dolled up and feel really confident about myself. It is a time when I feel even more proud to be born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Basically, if I couldn’t celebrate and attend something during Derby week, I would lose my mojo in life.” 


— Lindsey Robbins, George Rogers Clark Park






I like painting horses more than people. Their faces are different. I try to capture their eyes still because they do have — when you see a picture of a horse race, you can tell they’re in this very intense competition. You can tell that in their eyes.”


— artist Richard Sullivan (2017 Derby Issue)

Photo by Andrew Hyslop



The first thing that people are not going to do is buy artwork.


“Sales of equine originals and equine prints is by far my sales leader, and Derby time is when I sell the most amount of that artwork. Derby season is 25 to 30 percent of my annual art sales. So there is no way to escape the fact that this is a hard blow financially for me, even if it is delayed. So it’s delayed until September. Well, people will still attend Derby for the experience. People will still bet on horse racing. People will still buy alcohol and food. But there’s no guarantee the economy is going to be in a place where people are going to be buying artwork. When society begins to return to some kind of normalcy, it’s going to be baby steps. People are going to be much more willing to pay for a $75 print than a $2,500 painting. I am seriously questioning at this point, not what kind of artwork I should make, but if I will have to change my lifestyle so that I have to have another source of revenue. I really don’t know if in the next year, 18 months, I will be able to make the kind of money annually off the sale of artwork that I was accustomed to.”


­— David O. Schuster, local fine-art painter and art instructor, working in several genres, with a special interest in equine and Kentucky themes







The primary example I can give is Atlantic Aviation, which is a private-jet company. We feed their staff every year on Derby, which is a couple of thousand dollars every year. That is on top of the hotel business and Derby parties we do. It’s always a good weekend, and that is obviously gone this year. Question is: Will a September Derby be the same?”


— Adam Wyatt, owner of Wing Zone (Preston Highway and Hikes Point)

Photo by Adam Mescan



I love the last-minute, panicked out-of-towners shopping on Derby morning and sending them off to the track with everything they need. The Sunday before Derby 2018, we were listed in the New York Times as a hot spot for all things Derby fashion. Because of that mention, we ended up shipping hats all over the country that week for Derby parties.


“This will probably be one of the biggest challenges some small-business owners will ever face. With Derby on hold and the city shut down during such a bright and colorful season, it’s going to be really tough on many of us. However, we are going to take it day by day and look at early-fall trends, work on some new custom headwear and place our bets on a great late-summer Derby season.”


— Katie Meinhart, owner of Six Sisters Boutique in NuLu






Some horses are really too smart. A lot of times the really smart horses are always trying to figure out how to get out of doing what you’re asking ’em to do, and the really dumb ones aren’t smart enough to do what you’re asking. So the ones in the middle, a lot of times, they end up being the best horses.”


— Tony Burton, general manager for broodmares at Three Chimneys Farm (2011 Derby Issue)






I’ve fallen off so many horses, probably two a year. It’s not a matter of if I’m going to fall off again, it’s a matter of when. And I’ve broken everything — arms, legs, ribs, skull. The X-ray of my skull looked like a spider web, dude.” 


— Kent Desormeaux, jockey (2011 Derby Issue)






Where does a Derby horse come from? Nobody knows. One morning you go to the barn, and there he is.”


— Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens, who died in 1998 (2017 Derby issue)

"It's almost too big to comprehend the impact this will have on the city, on the hospitality industry — on really every aspect of life in Louisville. Our year revolves around Derby: Everything is either before Derby or after Derby."
Photo by Adam Mescan
Photo by Mickie Winters



It’s amazing how they can take a 1,200-pound animal and fit them into this casket. You realize how much of them is water.”


— Michael Blowen, founder of the Old Friends horse farm for retired Thoroughbreds, on the 2017 death of 1999 Derby winner Charismatic (2017 Derby Issue)






Normally, people celebrate Jan. 1 as a new year. From 2006 to 2018, my new year started the first weekend of May. I was the brand manager for Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse for 12 years. From January until Derby Day, most of my time was spent designing a memorable Derby for my guests, including Mary J. Blige, Boys II Men, Tom Brady — the list of celebrities is endless. I took delight in helping celebs and locals decide on fashion for Derby. I helped host the Thursday Derby celebrity party at Jeff Ruby’s, when celebs like Joey Fatone, Kid Rock and Taylor Dayne would join our house band, Robbie Bartlett, to sing a song or two. Then the next night I went to the Unbridled Eve Gala at the Galt House, where I met and became friends with celebs like Robin Thicke and Mark Sanchez. For three days the gods open the heavens to shine on Louisville. The air is different. I left Jeff Ruby’s in 2018. Last year I was filming an HBO series with Stephen King called The Outsider, so I was not in town for the Derby. But every inch of my body missed the city, the hospitality and the glam.” 


— John Wilson, River Road





Bob Evans, the former president of Churchill Downs, was a great client of Joseph’s. We talked often about the racing industry and about what Churchill Downs means to this community. One year he gave me and my husband all-access passes on Derby Day. Mary J. Blige was the singer for the national anthem, and she and her entourage walked by me and said they loved my hat.”


Kelli Campbell, owner of Joseph’s Salon and Spa

Photo by Andrew Hyslop



I think a fall Derby may be the thing to kiss summer farewell in a drier environment. Fall Derby. I like the sound of that.” 


— Michael Friedman, Old Brownsboro Place






The new timing represents a seismic change in regard to the preparation and development of Derby starters. Three-year-olds who would have figured as major contenders in May might be non-factors in September, and vice versa. The great equalizer is that nobody is exactly sure how to blaze this trail, one that hopefully will never be needed again.”


Marty McGee, Daily Racing Form writer






That’s Labor Day weekend. I just hope it works. I try to be so optimistic, but the realistic part of me is nervous about it. Everyone plans their Derby weekends for years. There’s no conflict because you know that’s when it’s going to be. I hope people can clear their schedules. These horses have a short window and they deserve their shot. Next year they’ll be too old.


“What I love is entertaining people who’ve never been to Louisville before, and they come in from all over the world. These people have experienced a lot of things, like the Oscars and the Golden Globes. And it’s universal, the things they say. They’re all just blown away. ‘What do you put in your water?’ It’s the hospitality, the horses, the parties, the scope of it. It makes me so proud to be from my city.” 


— Karen Lawrence, member of the Lawrence Family Foundation, which, with Fund for the Arts, is a presenting sponsor of the Awards in the Arts Gala at Churchill Downs

Photo by William DeShazer
"I have never felt lonelier in my life than the Derby I found myself 4,000 miles away from home."
Photo by Adam Mescan



Our Derby season begins in January. We begin purchasing our clothing, fascinators, gifts and home decor for the Derby season. Once mid-March arrives, we begin our displays in the store and adding Derby items to our store.


“I am so happy to see the Derby tradition continue, no matter what time of year. It truly brings our community together like no other event can. Because of COVID-19, I think you will see the community rally around the Derby more than ever. It is something to really look forward to in this time of uncertainty.”


— Jack Mathis, co-owner of Work the Metal in Butchertown






I’m glad it’s rescheduled because at least it gives us a chance. We’ll take whatever we can get at this point. Derby is our business — so much more important than Christmas. There are times when it gets so crowded that people are changing in the alteration room or in my office. We take Polaroids of what people are wearing to the track, and we’ve kept a book that records what people are wearing, and where (they will be) at the track, so you don’t have two women in the Turf Club in the same dress.


“I once had someone pull up to the curb in a bra and Spanx on Oaks Day and say, ‘I need to get dressed. Dress me!’ This was two years ago. I got her a hat, dress and a pair of shoes and off she drove.”


— Michelle Tasman, vice president of Rodeo Drive in Holiday Manor






I start in January with runway castings, Derby fashion photoshoots, Derby commercials and print ads. February is busy with runway rehearsals, fittings, recruiting and signing new models. March, all the Derby fashion shows happen. April, all the Derby promo work happens at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, more fashion shows, local magazines publish their fashion spreads, events happen, models are booked. We work up until Derby Day booking talent and models.


“It was sad to lose all my fashion business in one day, then one week later, all my Derby event business. It is a little weird trying to gear down. I hope all my clients and colleagues will be able to survive this economic crisis and will still be able to celebrate in September.”


— Kathy Campbell, owner of Heyman Talent

Photo by Mickie Winters



From Thunder Over Louisville on, I love being involved in as many events as possible. I welcome the sleep deprivation. It’s a ritual that’s going to be leaving me hurting emotionally. It’s part of the fabric of my life.


“We’ll deal with the postponement. It’s kind of like being the divorced kid and having Christmas on Jan. 6 with a dad who lives four states away. It’s still fun, but not as fun as having it on Christmas.”


— Terry Meiners, WHAS Radio and TV






We’re going to have to come up with a new rhyme: One of our sayings is, ‘Live every day like the first Saturday in May.’


“The horse racing has always been a fun part of it, but a controversial part that everyone struggles with. I don’t know if it’s really the main focus of the event. It’s really just delicious drinks and beautiful people, and just an excuse to celebrate when you’re getting out of winter and going into warmer weather. It’s one of those times when where you’re from gets a better reputation, where the things that are more high style in Kentucky get to shine. It’s the Thoroughbreds, the bourbon, the hats. There’s a positive cultural light that gets shined on Kentucky and Louisville, where the rest of time, people (in New York) are like, ‘What the f goes on in Kentucky?’”


— Louisville native Creighton Mershon and his wife Jessi Arrington have hosted a Derby bash in Brooklyn for as many as 650 people for 17 years, even after the graphic-design duo moved to NuLu in 2018






I eat and drink my way through the city. I go from Syl’s on West Broadway to Millionaires Row. I am everywhere. I like fish fries and octopus. I love it all!


“It will be interesting to tell my grandkids, ‘I remember the year the Derby was run in September.’ This year on the first Saturday in May, I hope we have survived this pandemic. I will thank God. I will dance in the rain. You know it will rain!”


— Sadiqa Reynolds, Louisville Urban League CEO






We’ve served everyone from Michael Jordan to the King of Jordan during their stay in Louisville. What the Kentucky Derby does for the city is unparalleled. We can only hope and pray that by the first weekend of September, this pandemic will be behind us.”


— Jeff Ruby, owner of Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse

Photo by Andrew Hyslop



We have to maintain calm and push through.” 


— Stacey Robinson, executive vice president and chief of staff of the Kentucky Derby Festival






I usually watch the race from behind a set of turntables or on my phone onstage at an event. I will build the music and energy up until the call to post, which is when everyone usually gathers around a big screen of some sort, and I will play the audio from the feed through my speakers so everyone can hear, and then we wait until the race begins. There are usually a few minutes between the call to post and the actual start of the race, so I’m able to place a bet or two on my phone.


“Who knows — maybe this will create a new event every September, a second Derby to the city.”


— Jay “DJ Jaybird” Campbell, More Than Entertainment






The delay of the Derby is a small inconvenience to us, if that. The health and welfare of everyone is bigger than racing. The hardest thing about coronavirus is the unknown. Will it be four weeks? Two months? Four months?”


— Ian Wilkes, trainer






I had to lay off some employees. I will be housing four of my employees at my house because otherwise they would not only be out of work, but would also have nowhere to live with the dorms at the tracks closed.”


— Buff Bradley, trainer






The horses aren’t ours, but we care for them. Sometimes we sleep with them, we bathe them, feed them and almost always chat with them — obviously in Spanish, because that is our language.


“Few people know of our work, but everyone watches these colts run on the track.” 


— Carlos, who worked in the Churchill Downs stables (2011 Derby Issue)






These horses understand Spanish very well.” 


— Mariana, a woman who worked in the stables (2011 Derby Issue)

"That's the fun thing about Derby and Oaks: Something magical seems to happen every year."
Photo by Mickie Winters
Photo by William DeShazer



I feel for the backside workers and industry employees who will struggle most with this shift. But I hope on the other side of this we look and see how we make them all feel vital to our city more than one week a year.” 


— anonymous, Germantown 






Not having a goal is the worst. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously the horses have to train every day. Breezing or running harder is how they train for races. Without knowing what’s going on, do we still breeze them? 


“The ripple effects of this will be felt for a long time. At least there will be a Derby on the horizon. But the first Saturday in May will be weird, for sure.”


Ben Colebrook, Lexington-based horse trainer 






Derby is my Christmas. It’s my Super Bowl. I had to cancel seven events, plus events we do here that week. We do two months of business within the five days leading up to Derby.” 


— Jason Shepherd, owner of J Shepherd Cigars on Bardstown Road






To me, Derby is a time of togetherness when people from all over the world gather in our gorgeous city to celebrate horses, springtime, bourbon and life itself. No date change or circumstance can dampen the whiskey-fire in a Kentuckian’s heart.” 


— Ellen Larson, Norton Commons






I call it ‘prom for adults.’ For four years now, my husband and I throw our annual Derby party in the Highlands. Every year it gets bigger and better — a 10-hour extravaganza of fun and games. I had it all planned before the Derby was postponed — with tents, food, games, bartenders, photo booths, DJ and a band. We agree with the move of the Derby and will be rescheduling our events for September. My only concern is how I’m going to recover enough to do it only a few months later next May.”


— Alana Streit, Highlands

"This Kentucky Derby, whatever it is — a race, an emotion, a turbulence, an explosion — is one of the most beautiful and violent and satisfying things I have ever experienced."
Photo by Ted Tarquinio



We were planning our Oaks Day Brunch. It’s probably six weeks of preparations. Starting about 10 days beforehand, I wake up at 5:30 in the morning desperately checking what the weather is going to be like. Life is best when it’s lived vividly — like rolling the dice on Mother Nature when you have 700 people coming to your house. That’s a lovely exhaustion you get to have. I threw a party and I’m tired. Oh, cry me a river.


“Canceling the brunch is very, very sobering. All the food orders not put in, the liquor orders and the flower orders.


“One year, we had a group of friends come in from all around everywhere. For some reason, they decided being in the infield would be fun. It was one of those years it rained on Derby. They lasted two hours. These poor people came in my house — they looked like they had been hit with a fire hose. They were soaking wet. Their shoes were ruined. They were cold. We gave everyone bathrobes. People were taking hot showers. I have this picture of all these people in borrowed clothes — there were like 10 or 12 of them. They popped the wine and they were drinking champagne. That’s the fun thing about Derby and Oaks: Something magical seems to happen every year.”


Jessica Bird, aka bestselling romance author J.R. Ward






All the horses are geared up for the first Saturday in May. Then there’s the Saratoga race, the Travers Stakes. That’s right before Sept. 5. I wish they would have run it without people just to keep it May 5.” 


— Charlie Grayson, mail carrier






This year, we hope, something will occur that has never happened before: the Kentucky Derby will be run on the first Saturday in September. Clearly, we all understand the reason. But it does make those of us who love the sport of Thoroughbred racing wonder what it would have been like to hold the race — an iconic, worldwide event — on its traditional first Saturday in May as scheduled. Only this year without an on-track crowd. For a sport that craves a dose of good news and an obvious need to attract new fans, this might have been the greatest opportunity in the history of the sport. Imagine if the Derby was the only live sporting event in the world that day! The amount of attention racing could have received would have been unprecedented. The television audience would have potentially blown away even Super Bowl numbers. And the Kentucky Derby is an event that has huge international awareness, so it is a contest already viewed around the world. And, moreover, the online wagering would have been off the charts. It would have likely been the only betting opportunity in the world that day in May. The parimutuel handle could have potentially been record-setting for all sports.


“The possibility of creating a worldwide unifying moment through the beauty of these horses would have brought the global community together and given everyone a ray of hope. The Derby may still yet have the chance to achieve that in September. It could still be the only betting opportunity that day, too. And maybe be the first time that a large crowd has assembled for a sporting event in more than six months.”


— Billy Rapaport, television producer and director whose credits include the Kentucky Derby

Photo by Andrew Hyslop
"I call it 'prom for adults.'"
Photo by Andrew Hyslop



I think the Derby at the end of summer is going to be great. It very well could be hot and humid, perfect for sipping on those mint juleps all day. It’s going to be really nice to see more seasoned colts and fillies in this edition of the Derby. Usually you only get to see that during the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August or later on with the Breeders’ Cup. It’s still the fastest two minutes in sports if it’s run in May or September.” 


— Michael “Bubba” Hester, Jeffersontown 






Since 1936 we’ve been the official band of the Kentucky Derby. Our main responsibility is to perform ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ but throughout the day we also play other pieces. The actual performance of our state song, the experience is powerful every single time: the goosebumps everybody talks about, the tearing up. There are two spots where that happens to me. The opening lyric of the first verse, I don’t really hear people singing. I just hear the band from where I stand. And then comes the chorus. That’s where I finally hear singing, the ‘weep no more.’


“It has rained now three years in a row, and two of those have been historic, record rains. The huge sousaphone cases, those are coveted places to hide. If you have a friend who’s a sousaphone player, you can actually crawl in with your whole body. The one two years ago, the aftermath of it was like responding to a hurricane. I had a week’s worth of cleanup. We were saturated for such a long time, there was no way to properly air all the equipment out. Our uniforms had mildew all over them. Our dry-cleaning company worked for weeks, and some of our shakos (the tall, cylindrical hats) were completely ruined. Miles Ahead Music, which repairs our instruments, they had to rent a facility, lay them out, open all the cases for weeks before they could repair the instruments.” 


— Amy Ingrid Acklin, U of L marching band director 






I have seven girls and two dishwashers. We don’t all cook on the same day, except during Derby. Then we’re all here. It’s a madhouse. It’s a lot of work, a lot of eggs and bacon that we have to cook. We’re in there half the evening making bacon for tomorrow. We do about 50 pounds every two days, and it’s like a 10-day thing. We do close to 400 pounds of bacon just the two weeks before Derby, just bacon alone. It’s like a two-minute race turned into two weeks.”


— Pam Pryor, 21-year employee of Wagner’s Pharmacy, cook and kitchen manager 






Growing up down the street from Churchill Downs, I could sit on my front porch and watch the ladies and men being picked up by people driving golf carts. I have a picture in my mind of seeing the ladies with their hands over their hats with the wind blowing and the dresses blowing. It was mesmerizing as a young girl. You didn’t see people dressing up like that unless they were on television. It always felt so special. It was in the air.”


— Brenda Playforth, Spritz Salon owner, hairstylist







My mom and dad, they’ve had a Derby party every year for like 30 years. They would just have friends come in from out of town. They’d bring a motor home. There’d be one or two parked at my mom and dad’s. People would come in from Texas. People slept in the extra two bedrooms in the house. People were there for four days sometimes. My dad would rent a pool table for the weekend or the week. They’d set it up in the garage. Derby Eve, Derby Day, there would be probably 100 people or more who came through the house.” 


— Wes Faust, merchant processing, Rice Strategic Group

Photo by Mickie Winters



Von Maur’s New York suppliers are always stunned at the things we get in. (They will say,) ‘That’s never going to sell. It’s just way too fashion-forward.’ But there it goes!” 


— Melody Westendorf, chief operating officer of the 29-store chain (2012 Derby Issue)






Louisville without Derby is the top college basketball market in the country. With Derby, it’s the top college basketball, horse racing and fashion spot in the country.


“My Derby prep starts with the first Derby prep races, watching TVG coverage on the treadmill in my basement. I follow everything all winter and spring so I don’t need to cram for the Derby exam in the last couple weeks.


“I’m sitting on the set, anchoring for hours on the first turn with the Spires over my shoulder. NBC’s crew is about 20 feet away. Our anchor position is directly above where all the trainers and owners walk past with their horses before every race. Even if you hated horse racing, you’d love it after spending five minutes in our posh position.


“This year will be my 32nd consecutive KDF Marathon or mini. I do one or the other. The greatest moment I have experienced with the festival was the couple of years the wind was just right and the hot-air balloons from the balloon race drifted directly over the thousands of us running the mini.”


— John Boel, WAVE-3 anchor 






To me, the Kentucky Derby is a reawakening. As much as the moment itself, I enjoy the events of the preceding two weeks. This year, I had begun training for the miniMarathon, a race which fills our streets with humans radiating relentless spirit. Last year, I woke at the crack of dawn to watch 30-something hot-air balloons sail off into the sunrise. After a cold and gray Louisville winter, the Derby signifies the official return of community and light — it is the official gateway to good times.” 


— Brian Hancock, Crescent Hill

Photo by Mickie Winters



It is not uncommon for people to come to my hat shop in November and December to order their custom hats. I anticipate sales slowing down just for the time being because Derby is delayed. However, I think having it in September, it’s just going to allow more people to prepare and plan and come to the Derby, and I think this will be the biggest Derby ever. And even though I may not have the revenue from those sales the next couple months, they’ll just come later in the year.


“My favorite part is seeing everyone plan and get dressed up for the big day. It is almost like there are a few thousand weddings happening on one day in this city.”


— Jenny Pfanenstiel, owner of Formé Millinery Co., featured milliner of the 146th Kentucky Derby






I know nothing about horse racing, but what I love about the track is the history I sense everywhere. When you’re in the paddock or walking under the bleachers out toward the dirt, it could be 1930s Louisville again.” 


— Louisville native and Paris-based fashion photographer John Bauer (2018 Derby Issue)






In the words of John Steinbeck, ‘This Kentucky Derby, whatever it is — a race, an emotion, a turbulence, an explosion — is one of the most beautiful and violent and satisfying things I have ever experienced.’ I love that Churchill Downs did everything they could to run this iconic race in front of live spectators.


“Like most people, my greatest Derby memory comes from the first Kentucky Derby I saw in person. It was 1988 and Winning Colors, trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Gary Stevens, was the only filly facing a formidable group of boys. She came into the Derby having won the Santa Anita Derby leading every step of the way, so everyone imagined that she would be on or near the lead — but could she get the mile-and-a-quarter? And could she hold off the field all the way to the wire? I was watching from atop one of the barn rooftops on the backside — back when we were allowed to do that. She flew past us leading the field into the far turn. As soon as the field passed, I made my way off the barn roof and ran into the barn to watch the final furlong of the race. I was ecstatic when I saw Winning Colors was still in front. Everyone in the barn was going crazy, rooting for her to hold on — or maybe it was just me shouting for her and it seemed like everyone else was too? No matter. She held on by a narrow margin and became only the third filly to win the historic race while giving jockey Gary Stevens his first Kentucky Derby win. I cried. Real tears of real joy. And I was not alone. As I looked around me there was not a dry eye in that barn. Whether or not everyone was rooting for her was unclear. What was clear is that the significance of her victory was lost on no one.”


— Donna Barton Brothers, racing analyst for NBC sports, former jockey






Powder? The only thing I’ve ever worn on my face is mud.” 


— Diane Crump, the first woman to compete as a jockey in America, and the first to ride in the Kentucky Derby, in 1970 (2018 Derby Issue)






Most years I do not actually go to the Derby, but one of my annual Derby activities is looking at the colorful hats and trying on the most extravagant ones in Dee’s craft store. The excitement and creativity is contagious, with the ribbons, feathers and flowers. Will the vibrant colors of spring be replaced by the warm earth tones of fall in the Derby hats in September?” 


— Paula Matthews, Indian Hills

Photo by Mickie Winters
Photo by Joey Harrison



I make fascinators for a living. This has been a big hit to my family of five. We’re regrouping and hoping that, if it’s safe, a September Derby could be something we all rally around as a city. It’s scary, though. We don’t know what a large gathering before a vaccine could mean.”


— Tiffany Woodard, Schnitzelburg





Our entire lives have centered around the months of February, March and April since we started our hat business eight years ago. Having to change gears and rearrange our entire calendar to adjust to this huge change of events has been a bit of a process mentally, but we will make it work. We are looking at the four-month postponement as a chance to produce even more hats to accommodate a larger customer base.”


— Rachel Bell, owner of the Hat Girls with Kate Welsh





Derby means, in the month leading up to it, I don’t sleep at night but instead take short naps because I’m so busy fulfilling custom hat orders while also working my regular job. It means a Derby pop-up shop or a Derby event every weekend. It means a financial surge when I need it the most…tax season. It means making friends with the post office ladies because I’m constantly shipping hats out. It’s exhausting but fun; the end result is my single most favorite event ever — Derby Week. I go to the track three to four times that week, getting dressed to the nines for all of them. I’m actually really excited this year, mainly because I was so thankful it wasn’t just canceled completely. Will the date change bring a change in color palettes and fashion? I’m excited to see what people come up with for the first Saturday in September. But I’m most excited for our city, our state, our country and the world to get back to normal and put all of this behind us.” 


— Nicole Finch, Finchy Baby Hats, Jeffersontown






People associate Derby with spring, but it runs deeper than a date on the calendar because it’s about tradition. And tradition, historically, has been something that binds people together, gives comfort in times of uncertainty.


“I’ve been working at the Derby Museum for eight years now. Derby has sort of defined my year. Derby is sort of like the moon: It pulls the tides in Louisville. But we have something to look forward to in September — and hopefully it won’t rain.” 


— Jessica Whitehead, curator of collections at the Kentucky Derby Museum

Photo by William DeShazer



If we look back in history, during other adverse times, Louisville has survived two World Wars, the Spanish Flu, the ’37 flood, the ’74 tornado. I feel like, through our unity and strength and dignity, we will come together again with COVID-19.”


— Heather Potter, curator of photographs and prints at the Filson Historical Society






Street Sense, you could put a bomb under him and he never got nervous. Mine That Bird was the same way. I don’t look at the odds. You can’t go by that, sweetie.” 


— three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel, who won on Street Sense in 2007 (2012 Derby Issue)






The kickoff of my Derby is, my dad and I go to the New Orleans Jazz Fest every year the weekend before Derby. And then we fly home and pretend to work for the week, and next we have Derby weekend. We stay with some family friends in New Orleans, and then they turn around and come to Louisville and spend Derby weekend with us. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for years.


“I think a lot of the diehard Derby people will travel in September. I don’t think people will want to sit on the sidelines forever, but this will probably not be the year that Derby sets any attendance records.


“This has been such a surreal time for Rainbow Blossom. Our sales are two to three times what they normally are. On the one hand, I think my staff feels incredibly lucky that they’re among the people who actually get to keep their jobs. And then, on the other hand, they’re scared and feel like they’re put more at risk when other people get to stay at home.


“I keep saying this is like the Great Depression for all of us in our lives, where we’re going to be forever changed because of this. I can remember not understanding why my grandmother saved every piece of food. I was always being told, ‘She lived through the Great Depression.’ For a long time we’re going to be thinking about what it means to be in big crowds, and I think this is going to increase the hygiene of people for years and years to come. There will be a lot of behavioral differences.”


— Summer Auerbach, second-generation owner of Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets

Photo by Ted Tarquinio



The walkover is probably the coolest thing about the Derby that not many people even know about. It’s like the tension starts to build, and you can tell everybody’s excited with each horse.”


— trainer Dale Romans (2012 Derby Issue)





Tonya York Dees of the Unbridled Eve Derby Gala says the “cousin of Prince Albert,” a Derby regular, sent her this message when she mentioned the magazine’s Derby project…


To the Men of Churchill Downs:


We are linked together in our cause to defend a tradition, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of our strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen under the grip of this odious apparatus, coronavirus, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go to September, we shall fight in Kentucky, we shall fight the long odds, we shall bet with growing confidence and growing strength on exactas and trifectas, and we shall defend our balcony, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the bleachers, we shall fight for our juleps, we shall fight for our bus in the fields and streets, we shall fight on the bluegrass. We shall never surrender! You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Derby, Derby at all costs, Derby in spite of pandemic, for without the Derby, there is no sunshine.


Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if our Derby trip lasts for another 75 years, men will still say: “This was their finest Derby.”


Respectfully submitted,

Winston Le Vine






The bourbon’s always gone. Sometimes the muffins are still here, but the bourbon’s always gone.” 


— Colleen Mahon, who told us about renting her Highlands house out for Derby and some of the things she left for houseguests (2014 Derby Issue)






I’ll just say this — people have been very creative over the years.” 


— Darren Rogers, Churchill Downs communications director, on how each year security guards fill 15 dumpsters with contraband, mostly alcohol (2012 Derby Issue)






I’m from Illinois, so I didn’t know jack about horse racing when I moved here in 1985. My first Derby was 1988. I had a friend who knew how to smuggle stuff in. I’ll never forget getting these old lawn chairs, the ones with aluminum frames that have webbing on them. He showed us how to pack beer into this webbing and fold the chairs up. We packed, I don’t know, 18 to 20 beers into each lawn chair and folded them up and walked through with them, each of us carrying two chairs and acting like they were light. We walked around the infield that way and had a great time.


“A lot of locals don’t like to see all of these weirdos from out of town come in and take over the city during Derby, but personally, I look forward to all of that. It’s a really nice vibe to the place, and everywhere you go somebody is out reveling to the max.


“The online world is going BOOM in every way right now. This is going to decide whether we are a virtual economy or an in-person economy. This is going to be the final shakeout on that.


“This could wound our social confidence in a way that puts a damper on things for a long time to come. Are we now only going to do things in small groups? I think less so with young people. But it may have an impact on the REO Speedwagon revival tour.” 


— Dan Barbercheck, president of Red7e Advertising Agency

Photo by Andrew Hyslop


"I hosted my first 'Derby party' in my parents' basement when I was in grade school, and I've attended every Derby since I was 17 and a freshman in college. Still having Derby to look forward to and to plan for gives us the hope that life and the world will get back to some sense of normalcy again." — Tonya York Dees, organizer with her sister Tammy York Day of the Unbridled Eve Derby Gala
Photo by Joey Harrison



I’m the most optimistic person, but there seems to be a lot of gloom and doom out there. Right now, the Derby is a blip on the big radar of most people, especially outside Kentucky. We can talk about tradition and 146 years of history, and it’s good to adjust the race to a different date. But it’s not going to be all roses and tulips; it’s going to be chrysanthemums. We may be coming to a sudden reckoning, where people are going to question paying baggage fees to airlines, service charges to hotels on top of room fees, or inflated costs for the privilege to attend a special event. And the Kentucky Derby, I’m sorry to say, isn’t immune to that. Let’s hope the next few months will allow the time to regain some sense of normalcy, but with tempered expectations.”


— Leonard Lusky,,






I’ve lived in this area my whole life. My family grew up at Third and Central; most still live on that block. Derby has been my life, to say the least.


“Although I’ve never been to the race, I’ve grown up mastering the hospitality that we provide in the South End as we welcome the race-goers. A few times I’ve had people in my front yard from other countries; I’ve had people from England catching an Uber. If I park cars and there are old people, I’m like, ‘Would you like a mimosa?’ Or, ‘Come on in and freshen up if you want.’ I like to set up a karaoke machine so people waiting for pick-up rides can have a good time while they’re waiting. 


“I’ve always been active in parking cars with my family; it’s a tradition my family started in the 1960s. In the past few years, it seems as if it’s being taken away from us — separating us in the neighborhoods from the people who are visiting Churchill Downs and oppressing the joy for our culture.


“On the other side of my family, I had a grandmother who lived on Winkler Avenue, who worked on Millionaires Row for almost 50 years, up until she was 80 years old. The Kentucky Derby has always been, inside and out, a contribution to the income I was raised on.


“You can tell the spirits of the horses are coming together for the big race. There’s a different type of energy that surrounds Churchill Downs the week of the Derby. There’s more traffic and more people and you feel there is this great, great thing getting ready to happen.


“I just had major back surgery. I planned my surgery around the Derby so I would not be affected, so I would be able to get to work, maybe park a few cars, and it could help me pay some of the medical expenses that are rapidly coming in. I know by September I will be fine as far as health, but my financial situation has me very scared. One thing for sure is: Safety is the biggest concern for everyone — visitors, workers and the people who live around here, though it is a major drag for us. I literally cried when I saw the press release.”


— Rachael Brown lives close to Churchill Downs

Photo by Joon Kim



The Derby is associated with all the original Louisville jug bands who played at the Downs for Derby Week and Derby Day starting in 1903. As a musician, the Kentucky Derby is always something you look forward to. There are plenty of events leading up to the big race that provide a lot of extra income. Since about 1996, the Juggernauts have been the house band for (philanthropist) Christy Brown’s Derby parties.


“I even took my stage name from a jockey who was one of my heroes.”


— Stu “Roscoe Goose” Helm, leader of the Juggernaut Jug Band






For one thing, as a trainer, you have a certain status in Kentucky that you don’t have any other place in America. You get a feeling that you are very well accepted. New York, I never felt like they embraced my colleagues or me. In Louisville, I feel very much a part of the community. I can go to a restaurant and have dinner, get ready to pay the check, and they’ll say, ‘The fellow over in the corner picked up the tab.’ I’ll look over, never saw him before in my life. I’ll go thank him, and he’ll say, ‘Hell, I enjoyed watching your horses. I bet on your horses. We’d like to buy you dinner.’ You don’t find that in a lot of places.”


— trainer and four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas (2014 Derby Issue)






Derby glasses definitely don’t do well in the dishwasher at all.” 


— Amy Seiler of the website Derby Glass Warehouse (2015 Derby Issue)






We’ve got a little over 50,000 shells to get off the ground. When we get to that finale, it’s time to pull out the kitchen sink. Anything that we haven’t ignited is going at that point.” 


— Thunder Over Louisville producer Wayne Hettinger (2017 Derby Issue)






You’d see a Chevy Camaro on 30-inch rims. I was little back then, but they were so high I could almost walk underneath. It was the Cash Money, No Limit era” — a reference to the record labels that produced such artists as Lil Wayne, Master P and Juvenile — “and you would hear that blarin’ out the side of cars. It was all your dreams. You would think that was everything.” 


— rapper James Lindsey on Derby “cruising” on Broadway, banned in 2006 (2017 Derby Issue)

Photo by Andrew Hyslop



Before they shut down the cruising on West Broadway (in 2006), a lot of West End businesses made their yearly budget off Derby. That was the lifeline, because you had people coming from out of town and other neighborhoods to the West End to have a good time. People were all over the place. Since the city got rid of cruising, there hasn’t been much happening around here for Derby. None of the events the city set up really took off. I might see a little more business after hours during Derby Week, but not enough for me to worry about them moving the race to September. To tell you the truth, a lot of businesses around here miss the way it used to be.”


— John Cole, owner of Cole’s Place in Parkland






When you grow up in the South End, Derby is more than a day — it’s a season. Derby to me is synonymous with spring. As a kid, you always knew it was getting close to Derby because people were going to get plants and start on their gardens. I must confess that I’ve only been to the Derby twice. For me, it’s all the things that lead up to Derby that are important, like the Balloon Race, Thunder Over Louisville and the miniMarathon. 


“It is going to be weird to have spring without Derby. I am concerned about the economic impact people in the South End are going to feel due to the race being moved to September. The whole hospitality and gig economy are going to be impacted. I’m glad Derby is being moved and not canceled, but now it is going to be competing with all these other events. The reality is that we only have so many hotel rooms. We only have so many short-term rentals. We only have so much capacity. I’m sure our folks at Louisville Tourism are working on how all of this will be balanced, but as an engaged community member, I have a lot of concern about what that looks like.”


— Nicole George, District 21 Metro Councilwoman






Spring is just a really fun season with Easter, graduation, brides getting married, people going on vacations, and then all the events leading up to the Derby — it’s just a lot of excitement.


“September will probably be better. Less chance of rain, and it’ll still be hot here in Louisville, so all these cute little sundresses will still be appropriate. And everybody at that point will be excited to celebrate something.”


— Wendy Bootes, owner of Apricot Lane Boutique in Westport Village






Growing up in Oakland, California, I didn’t grow up in a family that drank bourbon. I certainly didn’t learn to box and we never went to a horse race. And yet, I’ve adopted all three elements since I came to Louisville and embraced the city. We’re not the largest city in the world, but I think it’s one of the coolest things that we have three things — Kentucky bourbon, Muhammad Ali and the Kentucky Derby — that are absolutely international in their scope.


“Think about the global perceptions of our city. If you’re looking at China and there are all these cities that are bigger than Chicago and we’ve never even heard of them. There are tons of wonderful historic towns in Europe, and obviously America has lots of cities our size and bigger. But here we are, little Louisville, with these things that have put us on the map in a way that most cities would die to have.”


— Teddy Abrams, Louisville Orchestra music director






I had to lay off some employees. I will be housing four of my employees at my house because otherwise they would not only be out of work, but would also have nowhere to live with the dorms at the tracks closed.”


— Buff Bradley, trainer

Photo by Ted Tarquinio



Real springtime in Louisville is warm air, a rich palette of color with flowers, trees and grass. It just won’t be the same, but I will probably get outside, keep a distance and thank God my family is safe and healthy.”


— Gary MacPherson, Jeffersonville






I’m always praying that the dogwoods bloom at the right time — because Louisville is so terrifically showcased at this time of year. But I think Louisville will shine when it’s time to shine. September would be a good time. But there’s nothing like the first Saturday in May.”


—Teri Thomas, born on Derby Day in 1954, the year Determine won






As soon as I heard the news, I called my daughter in New York and said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be on my birthday, Sept. 5. Come on down here for the Derby!’ And she and her roommate immediately found a cheap flight and they’re coming. I think the way the weather has been — the rain, the cold — it has just been really lousy the past few years for the Derby. And it could be nice for a long Derby Day weekend in September.”


— Mary Frentz Bellino, Derby box holder with husband Joe, and born on Sept. 5, this year’s Derby Day






Derby is my favorite holiday. I am glad that Derby will still happen this year, but I will be disappointed if we don’t move it back to May going forward. My birthday is in May and every few years it actually falls on Derby. Selfishly, I don’t want to give that up.”


— Jessica Thomas, St. Matthews




"Christmas, Halloween, New Year's Eve, the Super Bowl — all rolled into one. An over-the-top phantasmagoria." — David Tate, Prospect
Photo by Adam Mescan
Photo by Ted Tarquinio



The one emotion that runs through all three Derby-winning experiences is this incredible urge to laugh. You’re just so happy, grabbing your stomach because it hurts from laughing so hard.” 


— Lisa Borel, at the time in a relationship with jockey Calvin Borel (2011 Derby Issue)






Derby is a celebration of Kentucky. We eat Kentucky food, we sing our state song, we dress in our finest, or silliest. I had requested off work the Thursday and Friday of Derby Week, and now, I guess, I’ll sit on my back porch, practice social distancing and enjoy our Kentucky scenery with a big pour of bourbon. I will admit, though, I am selfishly excited for Derby in September, because it is going to be my bachelorette party!” 


— Alanna Baugher, Hikes Point






I met my husband at the Kentucky Derby!”


 — anonymous






I don’t care if the Derby is run on a different day. I’m an old geezer. I’ve been to many of them, and I’ll just wait for when they run it. But the biggest story, to me, is the hardship on the Louisville economy. The people who make all these preparations, spend money getting ready for the Derby. That’s the devastating part.


In March, one of Shircliff’s horses ran at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, without fans. “They took us to the Homestretch Lounge on the first floor. They had food, and it was nice. But the place was empty. It was eerie.”


— Jim Shircliff, partner with locally based Starlight Racing, which owns major interests in three prominent Kentucky Derby prospects






From my stand, I look the horses over one more time, and press a button that sets the bell off and cuts the juice on the magnets that are holding those front gates shut. And then they’re off to the races.”


— Scott Jordan, Churchill Downs starting-gate operator (2015 Derby Issue)






It gives you that bonding opportunity where they are eating out of your hand and you are feeling their energy, karma and overall well-being.” 


— former trainer John Good, on giving peppermints to horses (2017 Derby Issue)






It wasn’t passion, because passion is an overused term. For me it’s a magnificent obsession. I live for it. If I couldn’t do it I would curl up and die, because I’d have no reason for existence.”


— Thoroughbred photographer Barbara Livingston (2015 Derby Issue)

Photo by Mickie Winters



I start trying to make a connection with a horse the second I get on him, even in the paddock. Everything else is tuned out and I’m paying attention to my horse. How’s he feeling? Is he lazy? Is he sore? Is he happy?” 


— jockey Ben Creed (2010 Derby Issue)






There is a lot of Derby activity at the jewelry store, that’s for sure. We start to see it around March. People bringing things in that they want to have repaired, rings resized so that they’re ready to go for Derby weekend. Also, there are some people who want to buy a nice new piece. That’s usually two to three weeks out from Derby. 


“I’ve actually budgeted for something like this if it were ever to happen, whether it’s an earthquake or tornado. Who would’ve thought it’d be some type of virus outbreak?” 


— Billy Lawson, who owns St. Matthews Jewelers on Brownsboro Road





Husband-and-wife Connie Leonard and Kent Taylor both work at WAVE-3, Leonard as an anchor/reporter and Taylor covering sports.




Kent and I are usually on the first turn in the morning and at night. We work for a few hours in the morning, then go to the paddock and the winner’s circle. And then all the production folks, photographers and reporters will all gather with us on the first turn and watch the race with us. And hearing the horses come around that first turn is pretty amazing. When we hire someone new and it’s their first time, they’re overwhelmed.” 








If we get to September, and we can have it, I think it will be such a celebration of having everyone together again. Kind of like that Monday Night Football (New Orleans Saints) game after Hurricane Katrina. But some people I’ve talked to think Sept. 5 is a little early. What if (the virus) is here in the fall? They may run Derby without a crowd.” 








The thing I like about a Derby party is that there’s sort of a timeline. There are yard games. We do some betting, mint juleps. We do food. Later there’s a round of party shots. There’s dancing in the evening. Crazy dancing. So it progresses from very kid-friendly — babies on blankets — to adults acting like babies, drunk on the floor dancing.” 


— Tori Thompson on throwing an annual Derby party (2015 Derby Issue)

Photo by Mickie Winters



The most surreal moment for me one Derby was when Hugh Hefner arrived. He walked down the carpet and said, ‘I want to thank you.’ And he gave me a hug and a big sloppy kiss.”


 — Casey Cook, then vice president of brand development and marketing at Churchill Downs (2011 Derby Issue)






I’ve discovered three techniques that have made my role convincing. One is to be hurried without being rushed; in essence, walking slowly as fast as you can. Also, a sense of direction is essential, even if you have no idea where you’re going. Finally, one must share the joy of the moment with the people who deserve it. This is not the art of pretending. It’s pure enjoyment. The happiness of a Derby winner is contagious. Locate the winners, engage them in conversation and accompany them like any overjoyed member of the winning clan. If you’re successful, no alibi is necessary.”


— habitual Winner’s Circle crasher Stephen Johnstone, one year before his death (2013 Derby issue)






Striding past the velvet ropes, I held my breath a minute until I realized a gigantic bouncer was not going to tackle me. From this area I heard Kid Rock perform, slurring his words. Carson Daly, of TRL fame, demanded a high-five as if I were the famous one. This is also where I kissed Anna Nicole Smith on her red lips. After much futile coaxing, Anna Nicole’s son, Daniel, refused to accompany our foursome to post-party dive bars.” 


— from a story by Lena Ness, Barnstable Brown Gala crasher (2011 Derby Issue)






One year our general manager got a phone call that a celebrity was coming in to eat. We were excited when he told us it was Chris Rock; we were shocked to see Kid Rock walk in a short time later. The restaurant was so busy, our GM misheard which celebrity with the last name Rock would be joining us. Only during Derby could you expect one celebrity and get another.” 


— T.J. Oakley, director of operations at the Bristol (2016 Derby Issue) 






Ninety-nine percent of the time I have no idea if these people are famous or not. I don’t pay any attention to (the silks colors of major stables). I just love my job. I love sewing.” 


— Derby silks seamstress Mikie Crady (2010 Derby Issue)

"Only during Derby could you expect one celebrity and get another."
Photo by Ted Tarquinio



I want to say it’s Pharoah spelled wrong.”


— a local trying to recall 2016 Derby winner Nyquist (2017 Derby Issue)






Everything’s canceled. Our five units alone, that’s $1,000 a unit we’ve lost, easy. That’s just the past week. For Derby we lost $10,000 total. But we have already booked two of the units for September Derby.


“What Derby really does is, with a rental property, you’re going to have 12 months’ income, but with Airbnb you get 13 months of income in Louisville, because you get a whole extra month inside the month of May.”


— Scott Howe, who is a partner in Howe Real Estate, and his wife Mo McKnight Howe, who owns Revelry Boutique Gallery in NuLu, operate five Butchertown short-term rental units, with 8 to 9 percent of yearly revenue coming from Derby Week guests






I will still be touched and centered when the singing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ begins and then…let’s turn ’em loose. Bring it! History unfolding in front of you.” 


— Alan Rupp, president of Kern’s Kitchen, home of the Derby Pie






I grew up selling newspapers in the infield. Derby Day 1986, when Ferdinand won, was the first one when I was hawking newspapers. So I’ve found every which way to get into the Derby. My mom worked for the newspaper, so I would act like I was selling newspapers when I was in college, walk in, drop them inside and stay.


“And my dad got me on the limo route because he ran a cab company, so I remember parking next to Rod Steward and Rachel Hunter in my Nissan Sentra. My parents were kind of custom-made for the Derby. It was my favorite sporting event. You could take all the other sporting events, wad them up, throw them away and let me have one, and I would keep the Derby.


“On the first Saturday in May this year? I’ll be having a sad, sad mint julep somewhere and counting the days ’til Sept. 5. Yeah, I don’t know. I’ll probably watch old Derbies.


“This is really the first sporting event to say, ‘We’re not canceling; we’re postponing, and here’s our new date of hope,’ you know? I think it’s going to be Louisville’s Derby more than any other. You know out-of-towners are saying, ‘You’re going to compete with football and nobody’s gonna care about the Derby.’ OK, fine. You’re not from here. Anybody who says that is not from here.


“When they sing, ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ if you think there have been no dry eyes before….”


— Drew Deener, host of The Deener Show on ESPN Radio 680






It is the city celebrating that makes the Derby, not the horse race. On Derby Day we ought to have a citywide celebration, even if it is just standing in your own yard, and some radio station ought to broadcast a call to the post and we should all sing ‘MOKH.’” 


— Turney P. Berry






I’m originally from Chicago, French-trained, and over my career I moved from working in four-star hotels to large-scale events — the Olympics, the Super Bowl, U.S. Open Tennis and PGA, the Indianapolis 500. The thing about the Kentucky Derby is that it’s not like any other sporting event out there. You can go to a hockey or a basketball game and the action is out there on the court. At the Derby, it’s in the stands, too.”


— David Danielson, Churchill Downs executive chef

"When they sing, 'My Old Kentucky Home,' if you think there have been no dry eyes before...."
Photo by Adam Mescan
Photo by Andrew Hyslop
Photo by Mickie Winters



It was about 25 years ago on Derby Day, a very chilly morning. I was dressed in a beautiful cream suit with a pale lavender-and-cream hat. My day started well before dawn on the backside of Churchill Downs as the co-anchor of WAVE-3 News Sunrise, at the time working with my co-anchor Chris Parente. Sports anchor Bob Domine and Chris were laughing and almost giddy as we came to the end of the newscast. As we went to break, one of them bumped a table where three cups of coffee sat, two of which fell right into my lap. They were not hot, but the creamy brown coffee now colored my gorgeous suit a dirty brown. I could feel the sticky coffee seeping into the cloth and covering my lap and legs. I did not speak a word for fear of what would come out of my mouth. I sat quietly looking forward with tears welling in my eyes. I heard a soft whisper say, ‘I think I can help.’ It was one of the members of our production team. She simply said, ‘Trust me,’ as she walked away.


“She returned with a metal bucket of warm soapy water. There were metal buckets all over the place; I can only figure they were needed to care for the horses in the stables that encircled us. I felt a warm whoosh of water, and soapy bubbles run down my body and to the ground. I tightly closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes and looked down, my beautiful cream suit was once again almost cream. I thought to myself: Maybe I can make it through the rest of the day. As I walked to my next broadcast position, I could hear the squish of water in my shoes. I left wet footprints everywhere I stepped. No one seemed to care that I was wet. I’m not sure they even noticed. By the end of that Derby Day, I was almost dry. Walking to my car, exhausted from the day’s work with my hat in my hand, I knew I had won without ever placing a bet.”


— Dawne Gee, WAVE-3 News anchor






However you celebrate, on Millionaires Row or your neighbor’s backyard, we all come together to enjoy the fastest two minutes in sports.” 


— Kelley Bright, Middletown






As long as I am at the track surrounded by friends, visitors and Derby first-timers with a mint julep in my hand when the horses hit the track, I don’t care what month it is. I know as soon as ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ starts to play I will get chills, and it will officially be the best day of the year in Kentucky.” 


— Ann Marie Maldini, Highlands 






The Derby must run, so for it to be rescheduled provides hope to the community who cherish our beloved Kentucky Derby Festival and the Kentucky Derby.”


— Kelly Gream, executive director of the Louisville Memorial Auditorium






There is that moment right before They’re off! when you can feel a swell of pride, excitement and pure joy coming off everyone watching. There is nothing like it anywhere I have lived.


“Five years ago, my husband invited my aunt and uncle to Kentucky for the races. My aunt had said if there was ever a chance, she’d love to see the Kentucky Derby in person. She is a very elegant, tall, slim woman who came to Churchill dressed in a beautiful cream-colored pantsuit and a lovely Derby hat. My uncle looked pretty good, too. When I finished my reporting shift, I came down to the box and watched the Derby with my aunt and uncle and my husband. Later, an outrider handed my aunt a long-stem rose. I remember her turning to me after smelling the flower and saying it had been the best day she could ever remember.


“This year on the first Saturday in May I hope I can go for a group run with my fabulous running friends — and I am hoping we’ll all wear fascinators. Who’s in?” 


— Kirby Adams, Courier-Journal reporter

Photo by Mickie Winters



Time stands as only ‘before Derby’ or ‘after Derby.’ Drinking or no drinking, the hangover is just as real. Derby in September? My circadian rhythm is off just thinking about it. But, as with Derby, anything goes.”


— JT Hale






The magic in the Kentucky Derby is that it doesn’t really matter how it is experienced. It doesn’t matter how much money you spent on tickets or your clothes. It doesn’t matter if you are at Churchill Downs or watching on TV — there is still a collective energy that you are part of history in that moment.


“I calculated in 2018 that I slept a total of eight hours all Derby Week. I would be at events every night and then on the backside at the crack of dawn doing interviews the next morning. Usually, at the conclusion of Derby, when I should be celebrating, I’m incoherent and soaking my feet while eating a pizza.


“I think the extra few months will allow us to heal from the personal and financial traumas that this pandemic has caused. Derby in September will be our moment to show the world that Louisville, Kentucky, is a city that adjusts, adapts and survives against all odds.”


— Tonya Abeln, director of community relations at Churchill Downs






I went to the Derby one time, or maybe two times, but by four o’clock I was going crazy thinking about all the people coming to the restaurant. And so my wife and I left, just watched it on TV at the restaurant with everybody screaming.


“Derby is the number-one moneymaker for Vincenzo’s, probably for every restaurant in town. We get people coming from all over the world. We have to turn people down. Friday is the biggest night. We probably do about 600 people. On a normal busy night we do a little more than 200. Everybody gets real, real tired. It’s very challenging. Of course, people make good money, too. You know how important it is, the gratuity for the staff. A lot of them, they support themselves in school. Many of them have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists. And they come back for Derby. We call at Derby time and they all show up.


“This year is going to be a little tough — a tough year not just for me but for everybody. I pray the Lord helps us. They say they’re going to do it in September. I sure hope so. I think by September people will be tired — very, very tired — (of staying at) home. Derby is probably going to be bigger then, as long as this thing goes away.”


— Vincenzo Gabriele, owner of Vincenzo’s downtown






That thing will get fingerprints all over it. Once we hand it over to the winning owner, though, they can touch it all they want.” 


— Chris Goodlett, then curator of collections at the Kentucky Derby Museum, who handled the trophy with gloves (2011 Derby Issue)

Photo by Ted Tarquinio



Fresh flowers, new tailored suit, Woodford Reserve on ice and my closest friends together laughing, celebrating and loving the moment.”

— Kevin Garner, New Salisbury, Indiana






This time of year, I usually voluntarily self-quarantine. My friends know not to call me and ask to go out. I usually work daily in the House of K boutique in New Albany and do custom appointments there while selling dresses. Then it’s dinner and working late into the night. I try to keep a good and healthy eating and exercise routine, but by the middle of April, that’s out.


“I will say that, before they announced the change of date, I was in tears. For one, it’s a huge part of my business, but, on the other hand, so many people make the most amazing memories at the Kentucky Derby. I have had clients get engaged, so many new friends made.


“The one question I am getting a lot is: What fashions will be in? It will be summer colors and styles. It will still be a summer sun in Kentucky.”


— Britni Knable, milliner and owner of HeadCandi






Derby is when you want to drive. The pay is premium. You’re going to be busy. You’re going to be with that vehicle the entire weekend. People want a little bit of old-world experience, with a chauffeur in a cap and maybe even gloves. We provide that.


“The first Derby I had a repeat client; it was the same client I had driven for the Breeders’ Cup: Art Modell, when he owned the Cleveland Browns. I was only 17 years old and drove him and his wife and a couple of their friends. I stayed with them that whole weekend. On Friday, the ladies wanted to go shopping. I spent literally all afternoon with them out at Oxmoor. I still have a picture of me holding the hundred-dollar bill Art Modell handed me. A 17-year-old kid, I’d never seen one.”


— Kent Sparks, owner/operator, Lake Cumberland Limousine, secretary of the Kentucky Limousine Association


"Louisville without the Derby is not pronounced Lou-ah-vuhl" — Tawana Bain, founder and curator of the Derby Diversity and Business Summit, CEO of New Age Communications, owner of Encore on 4th and founder of AFM Threads in Oxmoor Center and Mall St. Matthews
Photo by Ted Tarquinio



Derby is a time for all of Louisville to shine. We show up with rakes and shovels. We put a fresh coat of paint on the light poles. We plant saplings and flowers. Our backs are a little sore, but we know we’re ready for Derby.”


— Eric Cooper, Old Louisville resident, Central Park cleanup volunteer






It’s such a wonderful feeling to be a part of making that garland. When I see the blanket draped over the winning horse, I’m very weak at heart.” 


— Kroger master florist Carol Belser (2011 Derby Issue)






When I was in my 20s, in the ’90s in Brooklyn, my Louisville-native husband was known for hosting ‘The Party of My People’ every first Saturday in May. In a low-rent walk-up apartment, at a time when Brooklyn wasn’t yet cool enough to be a brand, we’d gather for his famous mint juleps and pretend, though none of us had any money at all, that we were fancy. This was my introduction to the Run for the Roses and my introduction to the love of my life, who, with his fierce connection to home, told me everything I needed to know about falling in love with him.


“My best friend and college roommate knew all about the glamour, the hats, the spectacle. Growing up in Chicago, it was her tradition to watch every year with her mom, and she assured me, with absolute awe, ‘Someday, you’ll go to the Derby.’


“Our Brooklyn Derby parties changed over the years, from our very un-fancy 20s, to the un-fancy 30s, when kids ran around the juleps and our circle of friends kept growing to include as many people as our tiny Brooklyn apartment would hold. I perfected my mother-in-law’s Benedictine recipe. We could never find country ham.


“In our 40s, my husband convinced me to leave Brooklyn for life in Louisville. We attended our Louisville neighbor’s annual Oaks Eve party, where I was properly introduced as a Derby virgin and educated on how to read a racing form. We made our first trip to Churchill Downs for the Oaks with our Highlands neighbors, who are now like family. Our Brooklyn cousins still continue the East Coast party tradition. We ship them country ham from Kingsley Meats.


“When my best friend’s prophesy came true, she came from Chicago, so we could make it a first Derby for both of us. We missed her mom, who made it their tradition but passed away before enjoying a real-life Derby. It was the wettest Derby in history. We laughed so much, with so much joy, we hardly felt the rain.


“This year, on the first Saturday in May, I am thinking of reviving the ‘Party of My People,’ but maybe online, virtually, connecting our Brooklyn and Chicago Derby circles to the one here. We won’t have the Run for the Roses, but we will have what Derby really means to me: finding home in the traditions you create, knowing that home is within the people beside us who make our memories, no matter what the physical space holds.”


— Rachel Stack, Highlands






Derby’s not just a sporting event; it’s a global connection of art, fashion, philanthropy, food and bourbon. It’s one of the only events left where a queen, a billionaire, a politician, a teacher, a hairstylist — everyone, from every walk of life — get dressed up, come together and enjoy the races, together. Literally last year I ended up standing next to Jeff Bezos for the national anthem.


“We will show the world how to celebrate after a quarantine. We will get through this all with bourbon in hand.”


— Jill Higginbotham, owner of J Michael’s Spa and Salon, sponsor of the Macy’s Kentucky Derby Festival Fashion Show


"A hat is good for the soul. And this town has a lot of soul." — haberdasher Abbie Dwelle (2014 Derby issue)
Photo by Ted Tarquinio


"Derby is in our DNA, no matter what month the race is run in." — Susan Vogt, buyer for Rodes, host of Derby Divas
Photo by Ted Tarquinio

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