After a packed day before the race, the big day arrived.
Known as Keene Place and built in 1805 by the Keene Family, the mansion is among the oldest homes in Central Kentucky. The home is jam-packed with history. In 1825 the Marquis de Lafayette of France for whom Fayette County is named and who served as an American General in the Revolutionary War alongside his close friend George Washington, stayed in the mansion.
Keene Place is on the Keenland grounds, which hosts horse races of its own. Public tours are also available and the venue is popular for weddings.
I must admit I felt a bit out of place amongst the wealthy investors and philanthropists we were mingling with. Nevertheless, I enjoyed many great conversations with business leaders from around the world.
On to Churchill Downs
Our next stop: Churchill Downs, home of the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby. Tickets were distributed on the bus–
We arrived and were immediately escorted upstairs to the “Millionaire’s Row” VIP section. We encountered a large room with beautifully set tables, buffet stations, and a private viewing deck of the racetrack below.
Mint Juleps were on the house and flowed freely throughout the afternoon.
Although there is only one race to win the Kentucky Derby, lesser races occur each hour throughout the afternoon. Around the top of the hour, we would saunter out to the balcony to take in the next race. Bets were available on all races.
At one point, John and I walked downstairs to see how most took in the races. It felt a bit like Jack and Rose experiencing Third Class on the Titanic–
Everyone seemed to be having a great time.
When you’re at the Kentucky Derby, men traditionally wear a coat and tie and women spring hats: don’t be caught without one. This is the South, I know, but I expected there would be many people who preferred to be more comfortable. Nope. Nearly everyone was dressed for the occasion.
We ran into Rand Paul downstairs, who was also at the Governor’s Mansion the previous night. Future VP Mike Pence was also around. Megyn Kelly, now of NBC News and model Kate Upton were in an even more premium VIP area than we were (adjoining room). More here if that’s your thing.
Betting on the Kentucky Derby
I am not a betting man — at least when it comes to casinos or horses. John, however, was happy to give it a try.
Our host explained how to bet and if you are curious you can watch this video–
Everyone at our table was betting on Nyquist, who was the overwhelming favorite to win the race. John put down his bet on Nyquist and we all filed out to the balcony to watch. I bet a few bucks on Creator. The odds were 10:1 against him so my $5 would have netted quite a bit.
The race began and two minutes and one second later, Nyquist had won.
So let’s just say John ended up with more money than I make in a week and I ended up with…well, at least the shirt on the back.
I will say this: Creator won the 2016 Belmont Stakes a couple months later. If only he had been a little faster at the Kentucky Derby…
The Jim Beam After-party
The race over, it was time to go home, right?
Not so fast.
Next stop: Jim Beam Still House in Clermont, Kentucky. A private party, hosted by Beam family (pictured below), awaited.
It was a rather intimate gathering, but there were some big wigs there like Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, Governor Matt Bevin, and Senator Ted Cruz and his wife Heidi. Cruz had just dropped out of the Republican primary a few days earlier so the Derby was probably a much-welcomed distraction.
In case you’re wondering, I do talk to politicians of all stripes and all were approachable and friendly.
Ed Henry of Fox News was also there with his wife. Just days earlier stories like this one made tabloid headlines. I hope they were able to work things out.
Anyway, the food here was the best food of the entire weekend — delicious filet mignon and salmon. After dinner we also got to bottle our own Jim Beam, sealing the bottles with our thumbprints.
And by 10pm, we were heading back to the Lexington after another action-packed but unforgettable day. We had a 7am flight back to LA in the morning so did not get much sleep.
What an incredible weekend! A couple reflections. First, the Commonwealth of Kentucky played a great host — I will cherish this experience the rest of my life. Second, if you’re ever invited to something like this, accept the invitation. I wavered over whether to attend or not because my wife could not come along and because I am just not that into horses. But I am so glad I did end up going.
The 2017 Kentucky Derby will be on May 06, 2017. Don’t worry: you can get much cheaper tickets than mine. This is something you should all experience at least once.