There’s a trip to Churchill Downs for opening day. A visit to Fest-A-Ville for the Run for the Rosé. And visits to just about every other Derby event imaginable.
For three University of Louisville students, this year’s Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) has been an experience like no other.
UofL students Megan Imel, Katie Trimble and Abigail Wooldridge have served as queen and princesses on the Kentucky Derby Festival Royal Court since January. The job involves attending about 70 KDF events and essentially being an ambassador for the program and city.
These ladies are all very good students and exceptional leaders, said Patsy Allen, vice president of the Fillies Inc. and coordinator of the Princess Program. They’re great ambassadors for the festival and have a rigorous and rewarding schedule.
It’s really non-stop, said Imel, a senior communication major from Shelbyville, Ky., who was named Derby Queen at the American Founders Bank Fillies Derby Ball on April 16.
I’m really enjoying getting to experience all of the events, she said. We kind of have a backstage pass to everything and we get to meet a lot of important people in the community.
That kind of activity is just what Trimble wanted. A senior biology major from Winchester, Ky., she had never attended the Derby festival when she applied for the Princess Program.
I had never been to Thunder (over Louisville). I just really wanted to be a part of it, Trimble said. And the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for the Derby festival is really just an incredible experience.
It’s the kids that make it so special. We go to these events, they’re so excited to see us, she continued. The tiara gives you this special power, I think. Their eyes get so wide. You really get to make their day.
Wooldridge, a junior industrial engineering major from Louisville and longtime Derby festival fan, agreed.
One of her favorite festival events, she said, was attending the Princess Tea and meeting and mingling with the children.
Their faces just light up.
The chance to be a Derby princess is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she said.
UofL students fill three of the four spots on this year’s court. Court members were selected from about 85 college students who applied for the program last fall. Criteria include a grade-point-average of at least a 3.0, knowledge of the Derby festival, poise, intelligence, personality and campus and community involvement. A panel of out-of-state judges interviewed candidates twice before naming the court.
Court members receive a college scholarship to further their studies.
There are other perks that come with applying for the program that would help any college student, Woolridge said, like the chance to go through an intensive interview process and application.
I’d just encourage any young lady to try next year, she said.
The first Derby Festival Princess was crowned in 1957, the second year of the festival. Previous princesses have included former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins and Gail Gorski, the first woman pilot for United Airlines.