Derby Museum Gala: You Should’ve Been There

If you didn’t attend the 31st Annual Derby Museum Gala last Friday evening, you should have. So, take that smart phone out now and put it in your calendar to secure tickets in March of 2018. They sell out fast. You’ll thank me.

Upon arrival at Gate 17, we were warmly greeted by the Host Committee and Chair Person, Rhonda Jo Connor and her handsome husband, Jimmy Dan Connor. The Step-and-Repeat photos were flanked by mannequins donning some fabulous fashions of galas past, including a red gown worn by Rhonda Jo. It was a stunning number first worn by her husband’s grandmother, Catherine Connor, at the opening of the Russian Embassy. The red bow made a modern appearance on Rhonda Jo’s current-day selection.

Before entering the elevator to make our way to The Mansion at Churchill Downs, we were graciously served a glass of champagne. Let’s be honest, all elevator rides should include a little bubbly. And suddenly, we were among many revelers in the rarely-seen 8,000 sq. ft. expanse of Derby magic and pageantry. Once there, we enjoyed our usual Woodford Old Fashioned while looking out over the track as a mighty breeze blew and clouds threatened to roll in.

With drinks in hand, we toured the glorious splendor of The Mansion, which included a curated display of gala fashions worn by noted and loved Louisville philanthropist and fashion icon, Sug Schusterman. Sug passed away in 2012, but left a treasure trove of exquisite gowns from her many years on the philanthropic social scene in Louisville. I knew her briefly and enjoyed seeing the tangible remnants of her grace, class and style through the couture pieces encased in glass throughout The Mansion.

Once shuttled to the Museum, dinner was nothing short of a love-fest for your taste-buds. Crab salad, beef tenderloin, and a silky smooth mousse concoction left my belly happy and ready to power through the demands of social engagement and a dance floor waiting for my husband’s mad skills. But first, a Mint Julep. I have to say it was one of the best mint juleps I’ve ever had. Ever. Woodford is a great first-ingredient for any cocktail, in my humble opinion.

After dinner, guests gathered at the balcony and in the center of the lower level to view “The Greatest Race” on the 360 degree screen of the museum. I challenge you to watch that film and not get a little teary-eyed. It will make your heart swell with nine kinds of Kentucky pride. You may also come to realize just how important the Thoroughbred Industry is to the Bluegrass as well. The educational programs of the museum supported by the gala reach every county in Kentucky. That means some child in the furthest reaches of the state may become aware of a place to focus their passions and love of horses in a legitimate career choice. That’s a win-win for everybody.

Once we dried our eyes, the Celebrity All Star Band filled the room with dance covers that were impossible to resist. In fact, my knees still ache a little from trying to keep up. Guests were free to roam the museum and nibble on some tasty treats to keep up their strength. As we parted, hosts handed us a lovely box of “car cake”. A delicious single-serving of Derby Cake that I should have saved for my morning coffee, but I just couldn’t resist. It was the perfect combination of bourbon, chocolate, and well, cake. Who doesn’t like cake?

It was a fantastic evening from start to finish and I plan to be in attendance next year. My Kentucky pride simply won’t permit my absence. Cheers!

On another note, there’s a petition going around to declare the Old Fashioned the official cocktail of Thurby. The Oaks has the Lily and Derby has the Mint Julep. It makes total sense. I’ve signed it and so should you. Here’s the link.