Ashley Judd, a native daughter of Kentucky, dependably attends the Kentucky Derby as one of many celebrities who satisfy the stargazing needs of hardcore and casual racing fans alike.
This year, Judd and others will be upstaged by actual royalty: Queen Elizabeth II.
As part of a six-day trip to the United States that included visits to Colonial Williamsburg and Washington, D.C., the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, will attend the 133rd running of the Derby.
The staff at Churchill Downs, the legendary racetrack that hosts the Derby, has gone to great lengths to accommodate perhaps their most high-profile guest in the raceâ€™s history.
The Downsâ€™ executive chef will prepare an extravagant meal showcasing many Kentucky specialties. A menu befitting a royal palette, the spread will feature prime rib, poached lobster and barbeque shrimp, as well as Kentucky-style pole beans, spoon bread, Bibb lettuce and a country cassoulet with braised chicken, duck, black-eyed peas, country ham, and Kentucky-produced beef.
As part of this weekâ€™s preparation, select staff at the racetrack most likely to have contact with the Queen â€“ such as food servers and elevator operators â€“ were asked to complete etiquette training. Among the taboos are approaching the Queen with an outstretched hand. (A simple bow or nodding of the head will do just fine, thank you).
An owner and practiced breeder of thoroughbreds, the Queen, having acquired tickets from a former British ambassador who now owns a farm in Kentucky, will be well-placed in a seat near the finish line. In what many call â€œthe most exciting two minutes in sports,â€ the Queen may have to wait longer than usual this year before the winner is announced.
Due to heavy rains today and Friday, and a 60% chance of thunderstorms at race time on Saturday, many are predicting sloppy conditions and a slow track.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who is sending five of the twenty horses in this yearâ€™s field to the starting gate, deems weather, in a race without a clear favorite, the â€œXâ€ factor.
â€œYou really donâ€™t know until you run on [the dirt track],â€ Pletcher said to the LA Times. â€œWith twenty horses, some of the ones that get in the back will get more slop thrown in their faces than they would if the track turns out to be fast.â€
If Derby hopeful Stormello winds up the â€œcleanâ€ winner at the end of the 1 Â¼-mile race, owner and trainer Bill Currin wants to receive a special kind of recognition.
â€œI hope [the Queen]â€™s bringing her sword. Maybe sheâ€™ll knight me if I win,â€ quipped Currin.
A spokesperson for the Queen would not disclose whether she will indulge in a traditional mint julep, or wear a floppy, overturned gravy boat-style hat, so popular among women attendees, to the race.
Judd and the celebrity class, therefore, have an opportunity to wedge fashion and â€œunwinding before a live audienceâ€ gaps between themselves and the Queen.
They still a have real chance, in other words, to steal some royal thunder.
If gambling were legal, the odds on this yearâ€™s field may be of interest:
Derby Day as experienced by Hunter S. Thompson:
Overturned gravy boat-style Derby hats:
Copyright © 2010 Matt Weston
A Derby Day fit for a Queen
Copyright © 2010 Matt Weston
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