Queen Elizabeth Graces Colorful Scene at Churchill
Sunday, May 6, 2007
LOUISVILLE, May 5 -- The queen looked resplendent in her tiara and understated green dress, bestowing her magisterial presence on the beer-soaked denizens of the Churchill Downs paddock area. The noticeable lack of security amid such a volatile throng in a crowd of 156,635 was one tip-off something was amiss. The other was the cardboard chicken bucket under her left arm with the tiny British flag poking out of a hole in the lid.
The woman down in the paddock, in fact, was not her majesty but rather Judith Gundy, who won a "Queen Elizabeth Too" contest sponsored by the Miami Herald in 1991. The real queen, meantime, kept a shrouded itinerary and was closely guarded by security.
Queen Elizabeth II of Britain made her first appearance at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, and while the story ran a close third in town the past couple of weeks, behind the big race and Kentucky Fried Chicken eliminating trans fats, her presence was widely felt Saturday and added a dose of dignity to an event teeming with the likes of Nick Lachey, Kid Rock and Gene Simmons.
Her stay with husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was brief -- they landed in the early afternoon at Louisville International Airport, were whisked to Churchill Downs for a late lunch and the race and then away to stay, presumably at Lane's End Farm, the home of Will Farish, the former U.S. ambassador to Britain, who has hosted her in the past.
Gil Logan, 41, executive chef at Churchill Downs, prepared the queen's meal. He spoke with representatives of Buckingham Palace in March and found the queen wanted to eat whatever the locals were having that day.
If not for the immaculate whites and high chef's hat, Logan, with his pudgy face and gravelly voice, looks and sounds like a guy who might be in the grandstand chomping a cigar and betting the double.
"I cook for the guy who wanders in to buy hot dogs and finds what I do and says, 'Wow,' " Logan said.
Churchill Downs on Saturday must have been the only racetrack in the country serving lobster sandwiches, and Logan presented the queen his signature barbecue shrimp, Kentucky bibb salad with strawberries and apple cider vinaigrette, and other treats. He said he went to 40 local farms to find the perfect produce.
Asked how he would feel if the queen didn't like something, Logan said: "Disappointed. She doesn't keep an organic lifestyle, but she wants the best she can buy."
The queen first appeared with Prince Philip at around 3:30 p.m. on the fourth-floor balcony to observe the Humana Distaff for fillies and mares. She appeared to wear the same lime green dress as Gundy, her impostor, with a green and red sun hat. Hystericalady won the race.
Her majesty, and indeed the entire monarchy, has a long history with thoroughbreds. Queen Anne founded the Royal Ascot racecourse in 1711, and the current queen owns 23 broodmares, which often cross the Atlantic for trysts with American stallions. Her racing colors -- purple with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and black cap with gold fringe -- were not represented Saturday on the track.
Back in the paddock, Cynthia Lundeen, a milliner from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, drifted through the crowd with her husband, James, like apparitions from a seance. At an event renowned for its women's hats, few rivaled Lundeen's.
She had won an all-expense-paid trip to the Derby in a national hat contest and had made a top hat for her husband, who looked very 19th century in a cutaway suit, waistcoat and vest, while she wore an Edwardian-style hat with triple ostrich plume and silk veil.
"I hear she's never been here before," Lundeen said, speaking of the queen, "and I put two and two together and figured she was here to see my hat."