LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs becomes a playground for the rich and famous every May, making star gazing as popular as handicapping. This year's celebrity lineup at the Kentucky Derby will be trumped by royalty.
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," Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said. "Louisville shines on Derby Day."
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 Southern-style meal featuring 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's 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 Churchill Downs spokeswoman Julie Koenig Loignon. "She probably is the most high-profile guest we've ever entertained."
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.
The queen has stabled horses at Kentucky farms in the past. She visited the Bluegrass State four times between 1984 and 1991 but has never been to Louisville.
This won't be the first time British royalty has attended the Derby, though: Princess Margaret, sister of the queen, attended the 1974 Derby with her husband, Lord Snowdon.