The Women Behind the Derby Traditions

Apr 28, 2021 | Community, Derby

Elizabeth McCall
Assistant Master Distiller, Woodford Reserve

There’s nothing like drinking a glass of fine bourbon — and Elizabeth McCall wants you to enjoy every sip. The assistant master distiller has been recognized for her work to grow rye grain in Kentucky to be used in bourbon. Since most rye for bourbon is currently imported from Canada and Europe, her work in this area has been vital. “The beverage alcohol industry is a fun and lively industry, and I learned that I had a true passion for spirits after I started at Brown-Forman. I didn’t know I wanted to be on the Master Distiller path until it was an option, and I started to train with our Master Distiller Chris Morris to further understand what the role entails. I love ensuring the quality of the world’s finest bourbon, Woodford Reserve, creating innovative whiskies for the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, and educating members of the trade as well as consumers on this brand that I love.”

Elizabeth is wearing: Dress, $118, Bracelets, $34 each, Earrings, $75, Shoes, $42, all available at That Cute Little Shop, 502.822.3585; Hat, $225, by Designs by Tony.

Hair: Krista Nenni   Makeup: Amber Himes  and  Tia Mao   Styling and Art Direction: Fitz Fitzgerald
Location: Kentucky Derby Museum

Valerie Combs
Director of Development,
University of Louisville

Valerie Combs has long been a Derby enthusiast and regular spectator at various Derby events, from the Great Steamboat Race to the Balloon Glow to Oaks Day. For several years, she worked on Grace at the Race, a gospel event, but is now helping to bring the Sneaker Ball to life. “The Sneaker Ball is part of the Derby Diversity Business Summit. You come in a ball gown, but you get to wear your tennis shoes,” Valerie says. Proceeds of the ball go to various organizations, including diversity initiatives at the University of Louisville.

As a former UofL athlete and now staff member, Valerie is called upon to bring together athletes for various Derby events. The Derby season is a great time for Valerie to network with business and community leaders in ways that can help promote UofL and benefit its students.

Valerie is wearing: Hat, $209, from Dee’s, 502.896.6755; Dress, $139, Earrings, $29.50, Shoes, $150, all from Macy’s, 502.423.3000; Bracelet, $225, from Rodes for Her, 502.753.7633.

Hair: Krista Nenni   Makeup: Amber Himes  and  Tia Mao   Styling and Art Direction: Fitz Fitzgerald
Location: Black Jockeys Lounge

Nikki R. Lanier
Senior Vice President and Regional Executive of the Louisville Branch
Federal Reserve of St. Louis

Nikki Lanier has a professional interest in the success of the Kentucky Derby. “The Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs serve as such an economic engine for the state. They are so integral to our brand identity,” she says. “From an economic vibrancy standpoint, that is something that will always be of interest to the Federal Reserve and therefore to me.”

She serves on the board of Global Economic Diversity Development Initiative (GEDDI — pronounced Jed-eye), a nonprofit that hosts the Derby Diversity & Business Summit. The summit, which runs from April 27-May 1, 2021, brings together business owners, entrepreneurs, and community leaders to discuss diversity, inclusion, social media marketing, negotiation, and other topics that are pertinent to making Louisville an economic powerhouse.

Nikki is wearing: Dress, $139; Earrings, $29.50, both from Macy’s, 502.423.3000.

Hair: Krista Nenni   Makeup: Amber Himes  and  Tia Mao   Styling and Art Direction: Fitz Fitzgerald
Location: Black Jockeys Lounge

P.S. Read about more women in our Derby Traditions feature.


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