Churchill Downs was packed for two days last Derby weekend. On Friday, instead of slurping sugary mint juleps and jostling for elbowroom with 105,000 race fans, I opted for Louisville’s Galerie Hertz, a short distance from the racetrack. Even as a Louisville native, I’m no longer drawn to large race-day crowds. I made a single online bet and took refuge in Hertz’s beautiful gardens to await the race results.
The interlude between plunking down cash for a bet and a race’s finish causes me about as much anxiety as waiting for two months for my first tomato to ripen. I don’t get too bummed if I lose a small bet or my tomato plants wither from blight, but I light up when Lady Luck goes my way on the racetrack or in the garden.
I met Billy Hertz and Tom Schnepf 25 years ago. Billy and Tom were pioneers in Louisville’s burgeoning East Market Street art scene. They also had a magnificent garden behind the gallery. If they had not established a foothold on East Market in the 1990s, there might never have been a vibrant hipster NuLu neighborhood today. Billy is a popular artist and gallery-owner tour de force. Tom is the whimsical and brilliant in-house gardening genius.
Billy and Tom picked up stakes 11 years ago and moved their studio, gallery and home to Preston Street, a block from Shelby Park and three miles from Churchill Downs. Tom went to work on their new garden.
I bet on last Friday’s Edgewood Stakes, a 1-and-1/16-mile turf race for three-year-old fillies. The Kentucky Oaks, for the world’s best three-year old fillies, would be run on dirt later in the day. The 145th Run for the Roses was on Saturday.
Ashbrook Farms and BBN Racing, LLC, own Concrete Rose, the third betting favorite in the Edgewood Stakes. My great friends Arthur and Debbie Logan are partners in BBN Racing, LLC.
Arthur texted in the morning, “Concrete Rose doesn’t like a yielding turf.” The track was soft after overnight heavy rains. I worried Concrete Rose might not handle the soft turf.
Though I can read the Racing Form, and know how to decipher how the racing entries performed leading up to a race, I am easily distracted. I have always been prone to sentimental bets. As a six-year-old I picked Silky Sullivan to win the 1958 Kentucky Derby. My godfather was Dan Sullivan. Silky Sullivan finished 12th, 20 lengths behind Tim Tam.
In spite of Arthur’s warning and the smart money going with Newspaperofrecord, I texted back, saying, “I gotta go with Rose.” I am married to a sweet Rose (Note to novice bettors: Betting on connections with family and friends is a foolish betting strategy. See Dan Sullivan above.)
I hung out in the Galerie Hertz garden, to await the results, and then a group text arrived from another friend, Fred Davidson: “Concrete Rose! Congratulations, Artie!!!”
I was a winner—for one big race!
Concrete Rose broke well from the gate, maintained a good position around the track, made a strong move at the head of the stretch and hit the finish line three lengths ahead of Newspaperofrecord.
I was amazed by the Hertz garden, and my friends won a huge horse race.
I enjoyed the wonders of two divergent worlds.
I love my Roses!
My burnished winner’s betting pot from Friday barely withstood the forgettable bets that were lost the next day on the contentious Kentucky Derby.
My winning tickets at the racetrack, on any day, are scarce.
It is equally hard to pick foolproof winners for the garden.
Here’s my betting advice: Don’t be afraid to take a chance, but don’t bet the ranch.
The Hertz garden is living proof of a stunning, stable of perennials, vines, orchids, trees and shrubs.
Do yourself a favor.
Step up to the betting window.
Bet the garden!