By RONNIE ELLIS
Glasgow Daily Times
It doesn’t draw crowds from across the Bluegrass state like the Governor’s Derby Breakfast — which it replaced — did, but several hundred turned out Saturday morning in downtown Frankfort for the Governor’s Derby Celebration.
That included Gov. Steve Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear, who strolled through the crowd for a few minutes, greeting well-wishers and posing for photographs before departing for Churchill Downs and the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Beshear ended the tradition of the annual Governor’s Derby Breakfast on the Capitol grounds shortly after becoming governor and in the face of a series of steep budget cuts. He said it wasn’t appropriate to hold such an expensive event while important government social services were cut and Kentucky families suffered through the recession.
The tradition of the Derby Breakfast began in the 1930s when then-Gov. A. B. “Happy” Chandler held the first one for a small group of private guests. But over time it evolved into a free public event, sometimes drawing as many as 15,000 for a country ham breakfast under a huge tent on the state Capitol grounds.
Many of them made the annual trek to Frankfort for the breakfast from places as far away as Pikeville and Paducah. Others stopped by on the way to the big race. The governor and first lady would attend the breakfast which also drew candidates and prospective candidates who often formed a gauntlet outside the breakfast tent where they shook hands of patrons and asked for votes.
Now, hundreds of people attend the event in downtown Frankfort, which is more street fair than pre-Derby event.
There are children’s games, pony rides, and other activities. Vendors offer arts and crafts and musical groups perform in front of the historic Old State Capitol located on Broadway.
The streets are blocked off and there are foot races for children and the Pedal for the Posies, “the second most exciting two minutes in sports,” according to Stuart Harrod, who conceived the idea of the race and owns the Folk Bike Recyclery in downtown Frankfort.
As he does most years, former Gov. Paul Patton showed up, with his wife Judi at his side and this time wearing a hand-carved wooden hat. He casually walked along the street greeting old friends and reporters who stopped by to say hello.
The Derby Train, carrying friends of the administration, economic development prospects and donors to the governor’s campaign funds slowly pulled through downtown as the people on the street stood aside or took photos and those inside waived to the crowd.
It lacks the statewide appeal of the Derby Breakfast and it lacks the glamour and excitement of the Derby. But for many in Frankfort and nearby, it’s the best way they know to enjoy Derby Day without the expense and fuss.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.