Two jewels in the Crown ~ An Insta-Diary of the Races…
It was on the bucket list and so far, two of the jewels in the Triple Crown of Horse racing are in the bag and we are off to Belmont in a few short weeks to collect the third! I had inside information on a little California horse leading up to the Kentucky Derby by horse handicapper and family friend, Gabby Gaudet. After following his races and his story, I was hooked on California Chrome only to find out he was the favorite at Derby and many thought that was a bad omen. Everyone tried to talk me out of it but I stuck by him and boy was that exciting!
I didn’t grow up on a farm or taking riding lessons but something stirs deep within me in the presence of these majestic animals. It started even before my daughter was diagnosed with Autism and began taking therapeutic horseback riding lessons and I began to host my annual Strut & Sip for Autism Fashion Show that has donated over $120,000. in rider scholarships. It’s the connection they make with special needs kids, the way California Chrome loves to soak up the media attention and how Secretariat just seemed to know what they said about him going into Belmont when he won by 31 furlongs….they are somehow almost human and our connection with them is undeniable.
From the minute you step off the plane (hat boxes in tow) in Louisville and are greeted by pretty girls in party dresses and hats handing out Bourbon truffles, and you see the horse shoes of fresh roses adorning the walls of the airport, you know you are in a town that truly honors these animals and this sport. I wasn’t feeling a dress for the occasion, so I sported a high waisted black pencil skirt by Three Dots, a periwinkle blue Abeline blouse, a black hat by Hats in the Belfry and nude ankle strap Sam Edelman heels. My sis donned a beautiful black lace full skirted party dress from Ted Baker, Stewart Weitzman wedges, hand beaded Dori Csengeri earings from Israel, and a lilac hat from Nordstrom. Our hotel had the most charming hat guru in their lobby pop up shop who ‘bumped us up’ by giving our fabulous but not quite ‘derby worthy’ hats a little something extra with feathers and such that he clipped in. We were off to the races and fitting in nicely.
Churchill Downs lives up to its namesake and puts on a royal spectacle of an event. All the photos are from my Instagram since no detachable lens cameras are allowed on site. Every southern belle and fella in the South and beyond seemed to be in attendance decked in spectacular big brim hats, en vogue facinators, pastels, pinstripes and bow ties. The people watching was an event unto itself and we did our best to capture some of it. Every ensemble outdid the next and everywhere you looked was a pack of perfectly coiffed spectators, race enthusiasts and celebrities taking in the palpable excitement. Many ‘Derby Virgins’ like us added to the frenzy and drew the second largest crowd in Churchill history. After downing the obligatory Mint Julep, I opted for a Champagne split (that came with a gold funnel for drinking out of the bottle) and convinced a wealthy Columbian business man next to me to go put his money back on his first favorite, California Chrome, and ignore his buddies naysaying about omens. He did and he won big!!! There is nothing quite like sitting on the home stretch when the thunderous roar of the horses comes past and especially when your horse is in the lead! If you have never been to a race, there are races every day around the country and you simply must experience it. Take a group of girlfriends and wager for picking up the tab at dinner or buying the next round of cosmos. Anyone can access this sport and I promise, it will not disappoint!
After meeting a super fun group of people in our hotel lobby bar, we split a cab (pricey in Louisville) and headed downtown to the 21c Museum Hotel’s hot spot, Proof on Main. The vibe was very cool, the food was excellent and the fact that it is connected to a modern museum through the lobby is so unique. We managed to inadvertently crash a $140 a ticket Derby Party by cluelessly sashaying past the registration table and down the stairs to an amazing party with the best 80’s cover band ever! It was a late night of dancing, cocktails and making new friends (oh and bumping into Kris Humphries, but I’m not sure that counts as cool) and we made a pact to come back every year.
Back in Maryland, it was time to gear up for the Preakness Stakes. I was invited by Dan Tordjman, a brand ambassador for America’s Best Racing, to attend several Preakness events, starting with a tour of historic Sagamore Farm. Kevin Plank, the University of Maryland graduate and genius entrepreneur behind Under Armour, purchased the farm previously owned by the Vanderbilt family and is restoring it to, and arguably beyond, its former glory. He is pumping an excitement back into Maryland Racing and should be commended for his absolutely incredible dedication to the sport of horse racing and the care of these animals. We toured the historic indoor track, the famous stall of Native Dancer, aka “the Grey Ghost,” the new jockey quarters, the race track made with Under Armour fabric fragments for extra cushion, and the most well kept horse barn I have ever seen (not even a hint of horse odor in that barn!) On the horizon is the distilling of Sagamore Whiskey since the water temperature and ground conditions of the on site mill are identical to that of Bourbon Country Kentucky. A brilliant operation from top to bottom!
America’s Best Racing hosted a mixer at Mt. Washington Tavern where I picked Gabby’s brain about her horse choices for the weekend and met the lovely Miss New York City and Miss America hopeful. Friday I headed to Black Eyed Susan Day (dubbed by locals as “Girls Day at the Track”) with the hubby in tow to judge the Susan G. Komen Survivors Fashion Show. I wore another fantastic hat by Hats in the Belfry and a Ralph Lauren Navy/White printed silk jersey dress. I was overwhelmed to be in the presence of these women, dressed to the nines by area retailers like Cupcake and Octavia Boutiques and glowing with the very essence of life itself. I took a moment to recall a dear friend who lost her battle years ago and another who is living through it now and was simply in awe of these women standing here, looking radiant as ever. It was truly an honor to be a part of that and one of the reasons the new management of Pimlico is doing such a great job to bring back that race coarse. They are courting women to bring them into the sport and it seems to be paying off.
After the fashion show we settled into our spot in the Maryland Jockey Club tent, noshed on some of the catered offerings and downed a Black Eyed Susan cocktail before piling over the program and “getting to work” (as the husband puts it) choosing my picks for the upcoming races. I look over the stats, and the connections and then just try to get a feeling of who I like. Gabby came on the jumbo-tron 15 minutes before each race with her picks and we bet on any horses where she and I overlapped. I won 5 straight in a row, including the Black Eyed Susan Stakes. We don’t bet large money so it’s not that crazy, but it is definitely fun and addictive in a nonthreatening way. We meandered over to the infield concert after the races (much cleaner since banning the BYOB 5 years ago) and listened to the Fray for a few sets. We capped off the evening with dinner at Wit and Wisdom at The Four Seasons in Inner Harbor East. All in all, it was the perfect date!
The next day brought more sunshine, so I headed to the Preakness sporting another big hat from you guessed it, Hats in the Belfry and a DVF wrap dress in the colors of the Maryland flag. This time I grabbed my other sister who sported my black hat from Derby and a darling black BCBG shift. She correctly picked the number 2 and 3 horses on a whim and I, of course stuck with my guy (and also chose correctly on the number 3) and California Chrome took home the second jewel in the crown. Now, if we only knew to combine our bets for the trifecta….oh well. Next up ~ the Belmont Stakes in New York. I hope to see you there!
Happy Racing!! xoxo Michele