The Women Behind the Derby Traditions

Apr 27, 2021 | Derby

Whether they’re creating the garland of roses, blending the perfect bourbon, educating the community about the history of horse racing, or raising money for charities by wearing sneakers with ball gowns, these women are the experts in keeping our traditions alive and helping to forge new ones. Check out tomorrow’s post for more of the women behind the traditions.

Stacey Robinson
Executive Vice President and Chief Engagement Officer
Kentucky Derby Festival

Stacey Robinson has worn many hats at the Kentucky Derby Festival over her 35 years there, including event manager and director of membership. But in her current position, she is focused on human resources, finance, legal, and risk management, and she plays a role in steering diversity and outreach efforts.

The Kentucky Derby Festival will have both virtual and in-person events this year, but there is a focus on outdoor activities and helping families and neighborhoods celebrate the Derby on a small scale. “We’re trying to do everything we can to bring our festival spirit to the entire community,” Stacey says. “In the past, there have been folks who have not felt like they have been a part of the Derby season and spirit. While this will be a weird year, we want to start working toward making people feel more included and spreading that joy around.”

The KDF brought around a traveling Pegasus Parade tribute to different communities throughout Louisville to avoid people gathering in large crowds in downtown Louisville, and worked a new plan for Thunder Over Louisville as well.

Stacey is wearing: Hat, $750, from Attitudes by Angie; Jumpsuit, $375, Earrings, $175, both from Rodes for Her, 502.753.7633; Shoes, $40, from Rack Room Shoes.

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

Katie Fussenegger, CTA, TMP, CTIS
Vice President
Kentucky Derby Museum

Katie Fussenegger appreciates the opportunity she has to share the history of the Derby with the public, and she wants to strengthen the museum’s presence. “Our President and CEO, Pat Armstrong, has laid a wonderful foundation to build off of, by making Kentucky Derby Museum a prominent attraction, not only in the Louisville Metro area, but the Commonwealth, across the country, and internationally. I want to build on that momentum … I can help heighten our customer experience as they touch a variety of tours, take part in our educational programs, explore exhibits, or host an event at the museum.” She adds, “Being a part of the museum’s executive leadership team is an extension of the welcome mat we put on the front porches all over Louisville to guests. Our front desk team asks every guest, ‘Where are you from and what brought you here?’ It’s a question that brings some people to tears.”

Katie is wearing: Dress, $89, Earrings, $14, Shoes, $33, Purse, $40, all available at Dream Boutique; Hat by Finchy Baby Hats, $180.

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

Tia Mao
Makeup Artist

For many people, the Kentucky Derby season is a busy time because they are enjoying the festivities, but Tia Mao spends the weeks leading up to the Run for the Roses helping other women look their best. In addition to working on Derby-related photo shoots and fashion shows, she has been a regular part of the Trifecta Gala — which will return in 2022 — providing makeup for attendees.

Working during Derby for both daytime and evening events makes for long days and nights, and Tia finds it a challenge to work in a snack break, but she wouldn’t dream of missing it. “Derby was a fun time. You don’t get opportunities like that, and it was rewarding to serve as the only hijabi makeup artist present at the event,” she says.

The downside of being so busy at Derby time is being unable to attend events herself as a spectator, but she is still an integral part of the action. “I meet so many new people; everything is so exciting, and everyone is so happy. It’s important for me to present a positive image for people who look like me to promote a more diverse presence at future Derby events,” she says. Although she is working, Tia has a front-row seat to the celebrity flare and fanfare that help make Derby so special.

Tia is wearing: Hat, $125, from Hats Off By Helen; Jacket, $69, Shirt, $59.50, Pants, $69, Shoes, $61, all 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

Carol Belser, KMF
Floral Delivery Manager, Kroger (retired)

For 32 years, Carol Belser has worked alongside the garland team and designers to create the elaborate garland of roses for the Kentucky Derby. Working on the garland is a time-consuming task, but Carol says the final results are worth the effort. “We order in approximately 6,000-7,000 roses in the early week of Derby, and we hand-pick and sort every rose to find the perfect roses to use for the garland. And there are other projects that the roses are used for such as the Winner’s Circle. So at 4am on Derby Day — after we have created the garland — we adorn the Winner’s Circle with 3,000 roses,” Carol says.

Although she retired in 2019, Carol couldn’t resist the temptation to be part of this momentous occasion again. “I will be sorting the roses and prepping the urns for the Winner’s Circle. I have a passion for flowers. It is in my blood…seeing that full garland draped across the winning thoroughbred gives you an awesome feeling.”

Carol is wearing: Dress, $695, Necklace, $595, Purse $1,990, Shoes, $450, all available at Rodes For Her, 502.753.7633; Hat, $225, by Simply Laura.

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

P.S. Check out the rest of our featured women behind the Derby traditions in tomorrow’s post!

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