It was a day of pride and pageantry at the sixth annual Harlem Derby. “Stylish and stunning” everywhere you looked was the theme of the day. Mint juleps, tasty hors d’oeuvres and good vibes flowed freely as we listened to blues, jazz and soul by Choclattjared & The Swagga Band, who played at the bar of the Red Rooster Restaurant while downstairs in Ginny’s Supper Club, The Waiters of Happyness Band performed. Some of us chose to sit alfresco, where we were the first to see—and to be seen. And as more and more guests arrived, we grooved to some of the best ’70s, ’80s and ’90s R&B music, until it was time to watch the Churchill Downs race on big screens provided in every key area of the restaurant.
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, the weather was heaven sent (not too warm and not too cool), which is perfection for folks with lots of panache and flair. Speaking of which, there were dinner and drink certificates presented for Best Hat and Best Dressed, sponsored by B Squared Harlem and by Harlem EatUp. No stone was left unturned by hat designer, founder of the Harlem Derby and our host, Rob Owens, including the fact that he reminded us that June 5, 2018, marked the 144th year of the Kentucky Derby and that it is a sporting event that African-Americans have helped to cultivate from its conception. When African people were bought to America for the purpose of slavery, we worked the plantation fields, as well as in the owner’s stables. According to Owens (a native Kentuckian), these skilled African caretakers not only fed and groomed the horses but also some, especially if they were from West Africa, might have been horse grooming experts.
He also states that there were 13 African-Americans among the first 15 jockeys in the initial 1875 Kentucky Derby. In fact, Black jockeys won 15 of the first 28 races. Each year, the Harlem Derby presents a racing professional with an appreciative award. This year, noted horse trainer Tony Wilson was the recipient of that auspicious salute. Owens’ goal is to bring ongoing attention to the rich and invaluable contributions African-Americans have bought and continue to bring to the horse racing industry.
All in all, it was a fabulous day co-sponsored by Hendricks Gin, Reyka Vodka and Hudson Whiskey. Without a doubt, Owens and his gracious staff presented the Event of the Year!