Derby Week Depravity According to the Professor

By John “Hans” Gilderbloom Ph.D.

The authors enjoying the day with beautiful friends in the Paddock at the Oaks
The author enjoying the day with beautiful friends in the Paddock at the Oaks

Rick Redding said it best –the Kentucky Derby Festival is the best place in the world to be; Louisville, Kentucky shines like no other place in the world.  He is so right.

Many come to the Derby because they have already made it. They display it by living big — eating at the best restaurants, staying at the nicest hotels, being seen on Millionaires Row, and attending the most lavish parties.   Oh, and don’t forget the eye candy — on display all over town are the most beautifully dressed people in the world.

It’s a festival of fashion where the young can look gorgeous in a $10 white dress with black polka dots from the consignment store at Baxter and Morton. and so do movie stars behind the cyclone fence in Highlands mansions.  Louisville looks as good as a party in Saint-Tropez, South Miami Beach, Amsterdam, Venice or San Francisco.

For two weeks Louisville is the “it” place to be.  A Miami model and hipster said it best: “The Derby is like an Adult Prom. We dress up in our best outfits, take lots of pictures, dance, drink like fish, Party like rock stars, make complete fools out of ourselves, all our friends crowd into expensive hotel rooms, rent limo’s and have fun memories that last us a lifetime.”

Note to the Mayor:  Maybe the Kentucky Derby attracts corporate relocation.

April is the best month to be in Louisville. Cold weather and snow is finally gone.  The city looks lush with blooming plants — tulips galore, roses in bloom and trees bringing much needed shade. Our nation’s largest collection of Victorians is sparking; the 900 block of Baxter is the place to hang out. Rich or poor, black or white, English or Spanish speaking — the Derby is a place of romance, beauty, love, strength, friendship, athleticism, camaraderie and fraternity.

I see it when I rent my Highlands Painted Lady Victorian out to fraternity brothers from University of Wisconsin, or best friends from middle school in Chicago, or Phoenix real estate moguls, or Atlanta family reunions, or University of Chicago Sorority sisters, Southern California developers, San Francisco family reunions; this is the ninth year. It’s more pleasure than burdensome – it’s fun being a tour guide and ambassador to Louisville.  And there hasn’t been a single CD taken or any damage done by the guests —save a broken tile.

For me, that is the best part of Derby. It’s not being on the finish line

Reunions of family and friends are heartwarming to the human spirit; it renews the soul and heart gives us time to make mid-course corrections.  For me, that is the best part of Derby. It’s not being on the finish line.  It renews my faith in humankind, gives me direction, and hope. So Derby is a tonic for the soul.

Sure, I make the equivalent of a month’s salary doing this, but in turn I spend $1,500 fixing up the place, cleaning and hiring a full-time maid service, moving in futons, renting an outdoor lavatory, renting the historic and iconic fire truck to get guests to the Derby/Oaks.

John's guests rode this fire truck to Churchill Downs
John’s guests rode this fire truck to Churchill Downs

I rent vans to take guests to restaurants, buy breakfast pastries from the Blue Dog Bakery, along with lots of fruit and juice.  In the afternoon, we provide two ice chests of beer, wine and soft drinks as well. The time spent advertising and organizing my crew adds to the pre-Derby preparations.

Finally, with my home rented, I stay with Rick Redding. At his place, I immediately break his bed solo (too bad it was just me alone!), spoil him with drinks and food at the Oaks, and spend $75 with maid service cleaning up his place and my mess.

I do know statistical odds; that is why I have a Ph.D. after my name. Based on a host of factors, I can predict with 95 percent certainty the odds that your neighborhood’s value (historic and downtown) will go up in value; or even worse how long you will live based on what neighborhood you choose to live.  Even if I calculate while sober and bring a host of “smart factors” into my betting choices, I break even after subtracting entrance fees, food, parking and other bets lost.

You can make a lot of money in Derby if you are unwise, superstitious,  and foolish;  just don’t bet a lot on it.  Last year, I  wanted to know if anyone on Millionaires Row had really made money betting. I found one guy!  He told me he was able to put two of kids through school with his profits. I believe him, but wonder how much did he lose to get that $200,000 to pay for college?

So this year I met up with another  guy at a Millionaires Row breakfast  to see a Wednesday workout and he tells me that Orb is the one.  “Don’t bet on Rick’s Pitino’s Horse, Goldencents,  but bet the other one which also has “Gold,” as in  Golden Soul.

Postscript:  Orb and Golden Soul finished first and second; but I lost the $20 exacta by betting on Rick’s Horse!

I will never make money betting. My day job is all about statistics and odds— in the end you break even or stop after you have cashed your big ticket.  I am too wooden to bet on the Horse with the longest odds — the Oaks winner, Prince of Sylmar, was 38-1, or to use the other approach used by many, beting on Horses based on names, numbers or colors. Some box it and win; at least, that’s how a 72-year-old man won big in our box.   He had his gorgeous wife pick 10 different finish orders with a $100 bet and won a Derby Superfecta – he made $12,435.

Lesson:  Don’t look at the odds or the experts randomly and hope to get lucky. But who can resist a $3 exact bet that might give you a return of $3, 345 by choosing the finish order of three Horses out of 12?  Now that is seductive!  I like those odds.

What is the best bet? Forget about the tales you read here and there about big bucks.  Bet $10 on an Exacta and make $10,000 or  buy my book and invest in green real estate in the historic neighborhoods of Portland, East Market, Germantown, Highlands, East Russell, Butchertown or Clifton.  If you break even , you are a winner.   One of my guests at the painted lady spent several thousand dollars on food, housing, transportation, new clothes from Michigan Avenue,  liquor, gifts to friends and wife;  betting and a blow up doll for the bachelor party.  When he subtracted his take from the track, the four day holiday only cost him $400.

The best party is not in Kentucky, but in southern Indiana, where the remarkable and gorgeous Mudd sisters host a Steamboat Race party Wednesday before the Derby.  This is where Louisville was founded more than 200 years ago along the Falls of Ohio and you get a great look at the spectacular Louisville skyline. 85 percent of the fundraisers’ proceeds go to an Alzheimer’s charity. This year it raised an astounding $35,000 at $40 a person. Bet on this party.

Dapper Mark Lamkin
Dapper Mark Lamkin

A great local band is always hired — but starts too late — and the food is, well, better than your local school cafeteria.  But this is where locals put on their best party dress, heels and the magical Victoria Secret super lifter bra that can make pears into grapefruits. People come to dance, eat and mingle. I like the bright pastel pants in orange, salmon, blue and red along with lots of bow ties. But no guy looked as good as local paisley king Mark Lamkin (pictured right).  Or  my house renters pictured here on the fire truck.

More stories more true than false:

A single mom who works as a waitress makes two months of her salary. The best paying job at Derby is being a bartender at the one of those $150,000 two-story corporate suites near the finish line.  My favorite waitress made $3,000 in cash tips in two days working 12-hour shifts, plus being paid $12 an hour, AND an estimated $7,000 in credit card tips—makes this a spectacular $10,000 Derby!  But next time she is going to do four days and hopes to make $15,000 in tips like her roommate.

Random notes:   Hits and misses!

The first night I took my 12 Derby guests to my favorite French restaurant, La Coop, which my guests proclaimed as outstanding. They loved the hanger steak and deer meat.  They thought the wine selection was top notch as well and could compete with any Chicago 4-star restaurant.  That’s a big compliment from guys who eat from the restaurant capital of the United States.

Jeff Ruby’s is a popular nightspot downtown, but as a place for steak I think it is not even close to our steak houses.  My steak was certainly thick, but the amount of fat seemed like one-third of its composition. I have tried his other restaurants in Newport and Cincinnati, but it’s never lived up to the hype.   The house band is good and the staff is good-looking and friendly.  But East Market and Bardstown Road restaurants can beat Jeff Ruby’s when it comes to red meat.  My house guests also loved Flanagan’s cheeseburgers, and O’Shea’s and Molly Malone’s to hangout and listen to local music.  Phoenix Hill put on another good show just blocks away with an 80’s hair band called Jackal.

This  is my story and not the other version by the most quoted Derby writer Louisville’s own  Hunter Thompson,  who called the Derby the most depraved and decadent party on earth;  a place of one-night stands or even one-hour stands, drunkenness, debauchery and bad street drugs.

I guess that exists if you want to find it but for me it is much more. Derby is a self-induced amnesia to forget about whether our civilization can survive.

Derby is a pause for us to reflect on the greatness of achievements made by humankind.