Our close friends, John and Anne Dozier, had moved to Louisville, Kentucky, after John became the manager of the local Merrill Lynch office. Mike O’Farrell, another friend and a prominent Ocala horseman, had tickets to the Oaks as well as the Kentucky Derby; so, the group of friends we travel with decided to crash at the Dozier’s and attend the races.
A thoroughbred horse race for fillies, the Kentucky Oaks is known by Louisville residents as “Our Derby;” and, as such, is one of the premier events on the local social calendar. Anne’s a great planner and is in charge of our group travel arrangements. As such, not only does she book tickets and accommodations, she also keeps everyone informed as to what to take and how to dress. Knowing that we were use to Florida tracks—where Bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals are often the norm—she made sure we understood that attending the Oaks was a dress-up affair. To insure that no one would be embarrassed, she mailed an itinerary that included recommendations on how to dress and telephoned my wife, Terri, and the other women to answer their questions.
The day of the Oaks, when Anne was in her bedroom dressing, Terri slipped into black spandex tights, a gold leopard-print top and to complete the outfit, she put on a pair of pink spiked-heel shoes. She then gathered our friends together and had them follow her as she burst into Anne’s room and exclaimed, “How do I look?”
Anne Dozier and I have been close friends for over 40 years and that is the only time I have seen her speechless. Her jaw dropped and her mouth was open but nothing came out; all she could do was stare. In the ensuing 10 or 15 seconds of silence, you could almost hear her thoughts: “How am I going to tell Terri that she is dressed like a TimesSquare hooker? How am I going to explain Terri’s outfit to John’s employees and clients? What was Bill thinking? I’m going to kill him!” Pointing at Anne, Terri then began a laugh that turned into a howl. Being the good sport that she is, Anne joined the laughter and a legendary story was born.
Our friend, Mike, had a filly, Queen Alexandra, on the race card and the guys were trying to talk me into betting 50 bucks that she would win. Checking the odds, I found that she was going off at 20 to 1, and not being a fool, I wasn’t about to purchase a “win” ticket. However, it was a four-horse race and I figured she might be able to beat one of her competitors, so I asked Terri to bet 20 dollars on her to “show.” When Terri returned with a “place” ticket I went ballistic; after all, the fillie would have to beat two horses to place, and at 20 to 1 there was little chance that would happen.
“Queenie” took the lead out of the starting gate and didn’t relinquish it until after she crossed the finish line. Since I calculated that my “place” ticket would pay a good profit, I wasn’t too upset about not betting on her to win; so, I grabbed Terri, told her that I was no longer angry with her mistake and turned to see out how much we had won. It was then that Terri spun me around and declared, “You made me so mad yelling at me, that I convinced the clerk to exchange the “place” for a “show” ticket.”
My friends still tease me about being cheap and not betting on the filly to win. The good news was with generous friends, I still got benefits from their winnings.
The next day was the Kentucky Derby. For those who have never attended the event, there are some things you need to know: the first race in the day’s card begins at 11:00 a.m.; you are expected to have your first mint julep before the first race and, if you tip the server, he or she will top off the already made juleps with a fresh shot of bourbon.
Thanks to Mike, our tickets were on “Millionaire’s Row;” where to enter, it took a ticket, a pass on a lanyard and a special arm-band. One wall was comprised of tables set perpendicular to sliding glass doors overlooking the track. On the opposite side of the room there were betting windows, bars and restrooms. When it came time for a race, you would step out the sliding glass doors to a terrace where you could urge your horse on—first class, believe me, first class.
As the day progressed, I got into a rhythm that consumed the 30-minutes between races: watch the race; order a mint julep and pick and place our bets for the next race. What I didn’t know was that when it came to the Derby, the time between it and the prior race is over an hour; so, with my rhythm interrupted instead of one, I had two juleps. If you have ever paid attention to the lyrics of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ you realize that it’s a sad song; so sad, that when singing it, I found myself bawling like a baby.
I remember little about the race or purchasing six bottles of expensive bourbon for my friends or why I decided to get on a skateboard later that evening—about the skateboard, I do recall seeing toes and stars at the same time and thinking, “this is not good.”
As we watch the derby this Saturday, Terri and I will have a Mint Julep and reminisce about attending the derby and I will ponder the lessons I learned: when shared, humor strengthens relationships; chances are you aren’t always going to be on Millionaire’s Row, so enjoy it when you are; know the program—if I had done so I wouldn’t have been surprised at the additional time before the derby—and don’t mix mint juleps and skateboards.
“It isn’t important who is ahead at one time or another, in either an election or a horse race. It’s the horse that comes in first at the finish that counts.”-Harry S Truman, speech, October 17, 1948