Kentucky Derby Prepares For Queen Elizabeth Visit

Wednesday, May 2nd 2007, 12:36 pm
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) _ Each spring, star gazing at the Kentucky Derby is as popular as handicapping horses in. This year's lineup of celebrities will be trumped by royalty and the venerable track is preparing the royal treatment for its most famous guest _ Queen Elizabeth II.

The British monarch, an avid horse enthusiast, will attend her first Derby on Saturday _ adding another chapter to a race steeped in tradition in a sport where bloodlines are valued.

``It says something about the Derby that it has universal appeal from the royals to us regular folks,'' said Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, will attend the 133rd Derby as part of a six-day trip to the United States that also includes visits to Virginia and Washington, D.C.

It was not just the horses that were preparing this week for the big event.

A number of track workers attended etiquette class to avoid any social faux pas when in the queen's presence. The track's executive chef planned a sumptuous meal featuring some Kentucky favorites.

Though a late freeze snuffed out much of Kentucky's spring bloom, the track will be resplendent with thousands of flowers. For a place that has entertained presidents, movie stars and business moguls, the excitement over the royal visit was palpable.

``I don't know how you top the queen of England when you throw a party,'' said Julie Koenig Loignon, a spokeswoman at Churchill Downs, the legendary racetrack hosting the event. ``She probably is the most high-profile guest we've ever entertained.''

The queen has stabled horses at Kentucky farms in the past. She visited the state four times between 1984 and 1991 but has never been to Louisville.

This will not be the first time British royalty has attended the Derby: Princess Margaret, sister of the queen, attended the 1974 Derby with her husband, Lord Snowdon.

The queen will watch the Derby from a dining room in the track's clubhouse, said Koenig Loignon.

``She will have a view that's very close to the finish line,'' she said.

Tickets for the queen and her entourage were provided by former British ambassador Will Farish, who owns Lane's End Farm in central Kentucky, where the queen stayed during previous visits.

The queen's visit even had the attention of horsemen getting ready for the Derby.

``I hope she's bringing her sword. Maybe she'll knight me if I win,'' quipped trainer Bill Currin, who owns and trains Derby hopeful Stormello.

The visit to Churchill was the only Kentucky appearance on the queen's official itinerary, sandwiched between a number of public events in Virginia and Washington.

Whether the Derby crowd will get a glimpse of the queen remained as much an unknown as which horse will win the Derby _ the first leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.

Security will be especially tight for the day of racing. Still, track will extend plenty of Kentucky hospitality.

Chef Gil Logan will prepare a meal showcasing Kentucky specialties. Along with barbecue shrimp, prime rib and poached lobster, the hefty menu includes Bibb lettuce, Kentucky-style pole beans, spoon bread and a country cassoulet featuring braised chicken, duck, black-eyed peas, country ham and vegetables.

The spread will include Kentucky-produced beef, ham, chicken, vegetables, honey and cheese.

Logan concocted the menu months ago _ long before the queen's visit was announced _ for thousands of Derby fans who will have prime seats for the race.

After consulting with Buckingham Palace, the menu was unaltered, said Logan, who works for Levy Restaurants, the track's Chicago-based food and beverage provider.

``She didn't add or subtract anything,'' Logan said. ``We wrote the menu last June, so without even knowing it we had already written a menu fit for a queen.''

And if the queen requests an afternoon tea, Logan will be ready. He teamed with a local tea expert to develop a special blend.

Meanwhile, about two dozen track employees _ from elevator operators to food servers _ who might have some contact with the queen attended etiquette class to learn the do's and don'ts when around royalty.

Among the taboos they were warned about: do not initiate contact by extending your hand to the queen, said Robert Magers, who works in food service at the track and attended the class.

``We were encouraged to protect us from doing that by putting our left hand over our right, and bowing our head or nodding our head toward the queen in respect,'' said Magers, assistant director of operations for Levy.

When the race begins, the queen will be one of many savvy horse fans.

The queen attends the Derby at Epsom and the summer race meeting at Ascot, according to the Web site for the British monarchy. As an owner and breeder of thoroughbreds, she often visits other race meetings to watch her horses run. But there are differences between racing in Britain and the United States.

In the United States, horses run counterclockwise on oval racetracks. Most British races run clockwise, though some races run in a straight line, said Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher. British races are typically on grass, while the Kentucky Derby and most other big U.S. races are run on dirt courses.

Still, there are similarities, starting with the large social gathering surrounding the Kentucky Derby _ when mint juleps flow and women are decked out in stylish hats.

When the queen looks out on the track, though, she will see tens of thousands of race fans gathered on the track's infield _ a place where free spirits are plentiful.

The track _ famous for its twin spires _ wants to leave a lasting impression with the queen.

``We want her and her team to walk out of here and say there's never been an event that she has attended that they were treated better,'' said Tom Schneider, the track's vice president of guest services.