Staff members and security guards at Churchill Downs are preparing for a visit from Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Phillip, who will attend Saturday’s running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
According to Julie Koenig Loignon, official spokesperson for Churchill Downs Inc., guest services staffers who will come in contact with Her Majesty have undergone extensive etiquette training, while security officers assigned to the queen’s guard detail have also been briefed on proper protocol.
“Amazingly enough, preparing for the queen’s visit hasn’t tied up every single person on our staff,” Koenig Loignon said. “We appreciate the fact that she is fairly self-contained as far as having people to help with her security. Of course, Secret Service agents will play a huge part in moving her from city to city and in and out of our event in a manner that will keep her safe with a minor amount of inconvenience to our other guests.”
Koenig Loignon said staff members in various positions, including chefs, bar tenders, elevator operators, and other guests services employees, participated in an etiquette course led by Kaelyn Hardy, Churchill’s director of guest services.
“Her Majesty is scheduled to arrive sometime mid-afternoon on Derby day,” Koenig Loignon said. “She will be escorted to the area where she will be situated for the day, and en route to that occasion she will stop for a media opportunity before going to her seats. Of course Chef Gil Logan is preparing an excellent menu for her, and she may come outside on the balcony if she wants to get a closer look at what’s happening. It’s really a very light schedule compared to what she’s used to doing.”
The queen and 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. The queen has visited Kentucky four times -- in 1984, 1986, 1989 and 1991 -- but has never been to Louisville.
"We're excited to host the queen for the signature event in the sport of kings," Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said. "The Kentucky Derby puts Louisville in the world's spotlight, and we are looking forward to showcasing our city to the queen."
Though a late freeze snuffed out much of Kentucky's spring bloom, the track will be resplendent with thousands of flowers. Churchill has entertained presidents, movie stars and business moguls, but 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 Koenig Loignon. "She probably is the most high-profile guest we've ever entertained."
This won't 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.
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.
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 race of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.
Security will be especially tight. Still, the track will extend plenty of Kentucky hospitality.
Chef 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: don't 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.
When the race begins, the queen will be one of many savvy horse fans.
The queen attends the English Derby (Eng-I) 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.
When the queen looks out on the track, though, she'll 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.