Inside the Kentucky Derby, America's greatest racing party

Kentucky Confidential

“And They’re (Taking It) Off!”

The Kentucky Derby’s influence throbbed as a pulse. The extensions of the Downs reached downtown to 4th Street and the seamy underbelly of 7th. Taylor Boulevard managed to bridge the two — part dodgy, part classy, all fun for Kentucky Derby fans seeking different experiences.

Enter the Win, Place, and Show Bar. No explanation necessary. There was a countdown clock to the Derby on the wall that was off by only 22 hours. TVG broadcasted from a flat screen in the corner.

The dancers spun around the poles, and the bartender — with help from another bartender — opened a bottle of Bud Light between the cheeks of her backside.

The Win, Place and Show Bar gave whole new meaning to the term “across the board.”

Outside, setting up shop for some finger-licking barbeque stood Darnell Johnson. He and his team oversaw the construction of the pit, on behalf of his wife, Evelyn, on Derby Week.

“I mean, to me, it’s a celebration in our city,” Johnson said.

Derby Week meant big business for the Johnson’s pit. They will roar through nearly 20 boxes of ribs and 200 pork chops.

Evelyn, a woman with tightly braided hair, who also runs a salon, marinated all the ribs, pin-balled back and forth between the bar, the salon and home, where she prepared all the food for her husband to grill.

“Derby Week, for me, is nonstop,” Evelyn said. “Back and forth, up till three, go to the bank and make a deposit.”

Though Evelyn, a Louisville native, has never been to the Derby, she’s marked out three horses, though one, Uncle Mo, scratched Friday morning.

“Macho … Mucho Macho Man, Uncle Mo, and Brilliant Speed,” she said. “We just kick it and have fun.”

A former dancer for the now-closed Tiffany’s Lounge, who refused to divulge her name, said, “Derby is about meeting new people, new experiences, and having fun … if you can. I’m boring. I don’t do nothing. I’m Michelle Obama in the making.”

Inside the Win, Place, and Show lurked the inebriated clientele who danced in circles, swung bottles of Corona (it was Cinco de Mayo, after all) and hit on the dancers, sometimes dragging their finger tips along their spines. Georgia, a dancer of WNBA height, with dark hair down past her shoulders and raccoon-dark eyes, expressed her hope of Derby Weekend, which promises to usher in fresh marks. She’s a seven-year vet of the business.

“Guys need to release stress; I’m not saying cheat on their wives,” she said. “We’re counselors; we’re everything to these men.”

As for the Derby?

“F–k, crazy money,” Georgia said. “For the year. It’s packed. It’s everything to us. This week? I’ll make a couple grand. I’ll bring in $2,500, at least.”

Georgia flung herself around the poles and performed to a cast of loyal onlookers. She has seen — and done — a lot within these walls.

“Craziness,” she said. “Shots on bodies, whipped cream. I walked around this guy like a dog with his belt around his neck. It’s good times.”

Rob Dietz, in town from New Brighton, Pa. (near Pittsburgh), works in the mortgage business and has made the trip to the Derby 16 times. Earlier in the day, Dietz saw Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel at a booth here and approached him.

“Hey, Vrabel, how’s Kansas City treating you?”

“Good,” he said. “Pittsburgh didn’t treat me so well.”

“Bulls–t! They treat everyone well! You gonna pay your tab?” Vrabel apparently dodged his eyes and looked down at the table. Then the two of them laughed.

Dietz had his eyes on the flames, both horse and hair, “Run for the Rosies!” he said. Dietz had a feeling that Pants on Fire with the redheaded Rosie Napravnik was his bet, his big bet. “Run for the Rosies!”

Dietz slammed back a bottle of Bud Light, “I brought my raincoat … so it wouldn’t rain!”

Ashley Wissel, 24, clad in a bikini designed with pink, purple, and green circles, swiveled with a sense of impatience. She’s been in Louisville for the better part of seven years, though a rookie to the stage.

“Girls told me it would be busy,” Wissel said. “It’s starting to get busy. It’s fun in here. There’s not a dull moment in here. It’s just a constant party.”

With the Derby Clock ticking down its still-inaccurate time, a man belted out, “Derby! Go Robby Albarado! Animal Kingdom!”

Though Albarado would be taken off the mount by morning due to injuries sustained during a spill and replaced with John R. Velazquez, the mood was no less light.

It’s Derby Week across the board.

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Author PhotoBrendan O'Meara is a contributor to Horse Race Insider where he blogs at The Carryover 2.0. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year" (SUNY Press 2011). His work has appeared in the Paulick Report, The Blood-Horse, Brevity, SN Review, and The Good Men Project. Visit his website or follow him on Twitter. More by  ›