Before all of the great additions and renovations to Churchill Downs, back in the late 80’s early 90’s, groups could book a “Day at the Downs” the week before Derby in Millionaires Row. Tickets to the actual Derby were usually all sold out to corporate event planners, sponsors and those who had them left to them in a will, or you paid a scalper a fortune for them. The Thoroughbroads were members of the Louisville Welcome Wagon chapter, so they attended that annual ” Day at the Downs” event. Millionaires Row was where the stars, celebrities, politicos, horse owners and trainers enjoyed the race day during the Oaks and Derby, so this was always a real treat. Attendance was huge and all were dressed in their finery.
The men wore spring suits, some even seersucker ones. They accessorized with bow ties, braces (suspenders), pastel shirts and straw hats. The women were in silk floral dresses or monochromatic fitted suits. Classic jewelry, tasteful shoes that you could stand in all day and of course a hat added to the attire. The hats were the show stopper though, few came without one and some felt go big or go home was the rule of the day.
Most of the Thoroughbroads had corporate guests to entertain, but Robyn and Scarlett shared a table every year with another couple from Texas. The tickets included a mint julep in a collector Derby glass, a race magazine full of well designed ads that showcased the best Louisville and Kentucky had to offer along with stories on many of the thoroughbred farms and their winning horses and winning prospects for sale. A delicious lunch buffet of traditional Kentucky favorites and access to betting windows in the room with you along with other conveniences made the day effortless.
The horses were beautiful along with those betting on them. Many times, Robyn , Scarlett, their husbands and the Texas couple, Pat & Tony, would pool their bets on a long-shot. Sometimes they would even bet on the first horse coming back over the finish line after the race. They would scream and holler out on the balcony and confuse everyone watching since the race had already been won. It was amazing how many of those on confused lookers would join in randomly picking a horse’s number out of the straw hat and putting in their two dollar bet to join in on the creative fun. Those pots usually paid better and you didn’t have to know anything about the horses. With enough mint juleps you will bet on anything.
This day however, Tony from Texas and Scarlett decided to pool their money on a grey long-shot to Win Place Or Show by paying $2 on each spot across the board, which would mean $6 per bettor. It is supposed to always be good luck to bet on a grey and this one was wearing pink silks along with the jockey, so Scarlett was convinced this one was a winner. Sure enough, as the gates opened that horse took off…and off and off…not a great sign, for he would lose his stamina if he gave it all he had that early in the race. Well, he kept going and the lead kept growing and as he rounded the last turn, Tony from Texas kept saying” Scarlett, Scarlett, Scarlett!” but Scarlett could hear nothing over her loud screeching and jumping up and down in those tasteful high heels. They had already figured out that if their horse won they would win $1500.00 each. Not bad for a $6.00 bet. As this lovely grey animal, all dressed in pink, got closer and closer to the finish pole Scarlett screamed louder and Tony from Texas kept saying ‘Scarlett!” but alas, tragedy would strike. The horse just fell over on the track, the jockey was not hurt but the horse did not get up, in fact it didn’t even move. All were confused as other horses passed by and another won that race. Track personnel, trainer and owner along with an ambulance came to the scene and a big white cloth barrier was put up around the horse and people…it was grim. All fell silent in the stands and on the balconies. The jockey could be seen pacing back and forth with crop in hand and very distraught. The ambulance drove off, the barrier was removed and the people walked away head bent.
One minute things can be going your way and another not so much. It was not the loss of the race, it was the loss of the animal, which was a loss of a dream. Scarlett and Tony from Texas turned and hugged each other tightly and for a longer than usual length of time that day. As life would have it, over the years long hugs would be doled out among these 6 friends. They would be given for the loss of a job, the loss of one’s health, loss of a parent, a couple moving to another state and the loss of a husband. Long hugs from good friends get you through difficult times. Strong friendships are something to be cherished.
Only 3 of the “broads” still live in Kentucky, but I bet all of us on Derby day sip on a mint julep or two and remember our “Days at the Downs”…memories that will last our lifetimes.
Derby Week Fare Recipes You Can Enjoy Serving Guests
Benedictine Dip or Spread
Remove seeds from 1 cucumber, grate and drain well by pressing all of the liquid from the cucumber. Add the liquid only to an 8 oz. pkg. of softened cream cheese. Stir in 1 tsp. of lemon juice and a small finely grated onion to taste. Add just enough quality Mayonnaise (we like Duke’s) to help it spread easily. Then color with one drop of green food coloring and chill before using. This is a Kentucky favorite!
1 6 oz. can of quality crab meat
1 jar of Kraft Old English Cheese
2 sticks of softened butter
A dash of garlic salt & a dash of Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp. of Vermouth or Sherry
1 can of chopped water chestnuts
1 pkg. of Thomas English Muffins
Mix all ingredients together and spread on opened English Muffins and place them on a cookie sheet interior side up. Bake 20 minutes at 350 until muffins are crisp. Pull them out and cut them into eights and serve. DO NOT MICROWAVE! They do freeze well for later use too.