On our return trip north, Frank and I decided to overnight in “Loouhvull”. On a whim the day before, we’d booked tickets to the 2013 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs, suckers for the $60 ticket price, which included admission to watch 11 horse races, free parking, a complimentary program and a buffet. But now we were running late, having wasted half the afternoon in an antique mall off I-40. We rolled into Derby City about 6 p.m., no time to check in, unload suitcases, or change clothes, and went directly to the track in our casual clothes…
And that’s how we found ourselves on Millionaires Row, two wrinkled, rumpled travelers amid a field of fillies and colts prancing in their fanciest attire, a technicolor designer derby before our very eyes! At our white-clothed table of eight, we introduced ourselves and tried to explain. The woman in the ivory fascinator a la Kate Middleton sitting next to my husband shook her head and smiled, giving him the "once over" from eyes hidden beneath her netting.
Though the evening was wet and chilly, the women posed in summery, skimpy, sleeveless, backless, strapless, low-cut dresses, balancing on four-inch platform heels as they stood in line waiting for a slice of roast beef. I determined my husband needed “blinkers” as I watched him watch a blond snake in a form-fitting aqua number slither by. But I really didn’t care as I stood in the dessert line in cross trainers and capris helping myself to bread pudding and caramel sauce. Just like my T-shirt said, it was “all good”.
The derby was still a week ahead, yet eager ladies sported bonnets, the bigger the better, bedecked with heaps of blossoms, and lace and tulle. Like captains on the Titanic, they carefully steered their way around each other, no small feat in the crowded, slightly tipsy venue.
The gentlemen played a supporting role in this theater, more concerned with how their horses run on a wet track. There were a few muted exceptions; straw hats, seersucker suits, suspenders. I nudged my husband, raising my eyebrows when I spotted a handsome stallion in gerri curls wearing a blue checkered shirt and pink bow tie. I interpreted Frank’s response, “never!”
At the window placing a $2 bet on a 50-to-1 horse, I noticed half a dozen guys wearing neon orange “game over” pins on their chests. “A chalk?” I enquired using my new racing slang. “No, a bachelor party”, the young man replied.
And so ended our colorful cavort under the Twin Spires – horses running hard under the lights on the emerald turf, the rain pouring down, the crowd hollering, the man waving his straw hat. It was game over!
I’m ashamed to admit the following day when we stopped for gas in Anderson; we visited another horsey buffet – the Golden Corral. It was my husband’s idea. I have no idea what the dress code was, but I suspect the retired jockey who used to wear his underwear inside out would have felt right at home. Everyone was having a galloping good time at the trough. It was then I beheld her – amid a sea of tattoos, flip-flops and fur-lined boots, puffy vests, camouflage hunting caps, Colts t-shirts and earrings the size of basketball hoops! “She walks in beauty like the night, of cloudless climes and starry skies…” The American thoroughbred from the night before! The bachelors had spotted her first. The lady in the circus tent, with the itty bitty red hat… and the trailing ostrich feather.
And then for the briefest second our eyes met, and I knew she remembered me as well!
(A “chalk” is a favorite in a horse race)