Photography by: Kathryn Harrington

Videography by: Dantana Smith

Written by: Jenny J.


An event designed to celebrate the remarkable individuals who embody the spirit of the Kentucky Derby

In the lush expanses of Kentucky, where the thrill of the Derby stirs the spirits of many, three of Louisville’s own have come together to highlight the unsung heroes that make the Kentucky Derby the spectacle it is. Tawana Bain, Amelia Frazier Theobald, and Julia Kolp Carstanjen, have launched “A Toast to Derby Makers,” a unique event that honors the dedication and sometimes silent endeavors of those behind the scenes ensuring we keep our annual tradition not only safe, but special. This new tradition, inaugurated on April 14th, just weeks before the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby on the property of Julia and Bill Carstanjen – Chestnut Farm.

At the helm of this endeavor are Tawana, Amelia, and Julia, each bringing their unique strengths and visions to the table, embodying the power of true sisterhood. Tawana Bain, a trailblazer in business and community leadership, leverages her vast network and influence to spotlight diversity and inclusion within the Derby’s sphere. Her initiatives like the Diversity Week and Today’s Woman magazine are testaments to her commitment to uplifting voices that are often unheard.

Amelia Frazier Theobald, with her deep roots in Louisville’s cultural and media landscape, ensures that the legacy and history of the Derby are preserved and cherished. As a visionary in publishing, she uses her platforms to foster a community that values history, arts, and meaningful dialogue.

Julia Kolp Carstanjen, marrying her passion for art and philanthropy, brings a touch of elegance and cultural sophistication to the event. Her efforts to integrate the arts into the Derby experience enrich the event’s texture, making it a richer, more inclusive celebration.

“A Toast to Derby Makers” celebrates not just the spectacle of the Kentucky Derby but also those who labor behind the scenes to make each event memorable and safe. This year, the event acknowledged a diverse group of individuals whose contributions span across various aspects of the Derby, enhancing both its heritage and its contemporary appeal.

The 2024 honorees were recognized in specific categories reflecting their unique contributions: Dr. Jeremy Thomas was honored for his critical role in Health and Safety, ensuring medical safety during Derby events. Mr. Joey Wagner, celebrated under Innovative Solutions, has been pivotal in elevating the Derby experience through his event management expertise. Mrs. Eden Bridgeman Sklenar was recognized in the category of Entertainment and Philanthropy, for her work integrating media, culture, and community support through her roles at Ebony Magazine and the Trifecta Gala.

Further enriching the cultural fabric of the Derby, Mrs. Rhonda Jo Conner was honored for Cultural Enhancement through her leadership at the KY Derby Museum Gala. Mrs. Sherry Stanley was acknowledged in the Education and Support Services category for her dedicated efforts at the Backside Learning Center, supporting the educational needs of the racetrack workers. Lastly, Mrs. Tonya Abeln was celebrated for her contributions to Communications and Community Engagement, ensuring that the Derby’s stories reach and resonate with the community, keeping the spirit of the Derby vibrant and inclusive.

These honorees, each excelling in their respective fields, have not only supported the Kentucky Derby through their professional endeavors but also through their deep commitment to community and heritage. Their stories are testament to the passion, resilience, and impact that define the spirit of the Derby, making it more than just a race—it’s a celebration of community, innovation, and tradition.

Set against the picturesque backdrop of Chestnut Farm, under a sprawling outdoor tent, the event was nothing short of magical. As the gentle breeze wafted through, guests were treated to an elevated brunch experience catered by the renowned Black Jockeys Lounge, while the melodious strings of K’Moree set the tone for an afternoon of gratitude and recognition. This was a day to remember, not just for the festivities, but for the heartfelt acknowledgment of those who labor quietly to ensure the Derby remains a world-class event.

“A Toast to Derby Makers” promises to be an enduring tradition, a yearly pledge to honor those who dedicate themselves to the grandeur of the Derby. It is a commitment to recognizing the heart and soul of the event, ensuring that the heroes behind the scenes receive their due recognition.

To truly understand the depth of impact and personal significance of “A Toast to Derby Makers,” we invite you to view the video profiles of each honoree. These exclusive segments delve into what this recognition means to them, capturing their reflections and emotions in their own words. Available on Today’s Woman Magazine’s digital platform, these videos offer a personal glimpse into the lives of these remarkable individuals, highlighting their dedication and the profound honor they feel being celebrated as the true champions behind the Kentucky Derby. Join us in celebrating their achievements and be inspired by their stories of resilience, passion, and commitment.