The Royal Treatment
Kentucky Oaks Day widely is regarded as "Ladies Day" in Louisville, but that moniker may have to be changed this year. That's because the fairest Lady of them all, England's Queen Elizabeth II, is scheduled to attend the next day's Kentucky Derby for the first time.
Details of Her Majesty's visit have been kept under lock and key, as one would expect when one of the world's most prominent figures prepares to join a mob of 150,000-plus sports fans. Under the direction of the British government, the United States Secret Service, Kentucky State Police and local law enforcement, suffice it to say, the Queen won't be signing autographs at the paddock pavilion. But, Kentucky Derby 133 figures to have a measurable, extra buzz with her presence.
Queen Elizabeth II's official, six-day state visit to America (May 3-8) will be to help mark the 400th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown, Va. In addition to a visit to Washington, she will be joined by Prince Philip on a personal trip to Louisville for the Run for the Roses, adding a strong dose of popular American culture for Her Majesty, an avid horse racing fan.
The Queen has visited Kentucky on a few occasions in the past, including visits to Lane's End Farm, owned by the former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, Will Farish. In 1984, she attended the races at Lexington's historic Keeneland Racecourse as part of a private visit, presenting a trophy for the race bearing her name, the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. The royal family is heavily involved in racing and breeding Thoroughbreds and maintains an active racing stable of more than two dozen runners. Queen Elizabeth reportedly has missed only two runnings of England's Epsom Derby in 50 years.
As Farish's guest at Churchill Downs, Her Majesty will become the first member of British royalty to attend the Kentucky Derby since the Queen's late sister, Princess Margaret, visited the 1974 centennial Derby with Lord Snowdon and took part in a special winner's circle trophy presentation.
Other members of the royal family to observe the "Run for the Roses" first-hand include the Duke of Windsor in 1951 and the 17th Earl of Derby, Edward George Villiers Stanley, in 1930. It's that same Derby family name from whom great races in England (and later America) got their names.
Celebrity-watching at the Kentucky Derby long has been a tradition, whether you fancy Bo Derek or Ashley Judd, Alice Cooper or Kid Rock, or even notorious James Gang member Frank James, attendee of the 1889 renewal. Note: there's no record of how much loot James left with following Spokane's nose victory over Proctor Knott.
In addition to the Hollywood eye candy that dots Millionaire's Row, eight past, present or future United States Presidents have taken in the first Saturday in May under the Twin Spires. The late sporting giant Gerald Ford was a regular, following the likes of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Both George W. and George Herbert Walker Bush were on hand for Fusaichi Pegasus' win in 2000. Richard Nixon was the only of the eight to visit while serving office, however.
And who might the Queen be backing on the first Saturday in May? Hard to tell, but well-known former British bookmaker Michael Tabor and his wife Doreen own top contender Circular Quay, the Louisiana Derby winner, and co-own Florida Derby champion Scat Daddy. That might be a good place to start since you're not likely to see Her Majesty in line at the $50 minimum window.
Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine and HorsePlayerdaily.com.
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