In over two months’ time, the world will be looking upon Louisville as several horses aim to become the next Triple Crown winner, all thundering down the stretch at Churchill Downs in horse racing’s fastest two minutes, the Kentucky Derby. Mint juleps will be had, wallets will shrink and grow, and locals will hobnob with celebrities over the first Saturday in May.
Before then, there’s the month-long run-up to the festivities at Churchill, from big events like Thunder Over Louisville and the Kentucky Derby Festival, to galas, parties and fashion shows galore.
Excited to go to this year’s Fillies Ball? Mark off Saturday, April 8 on your calendar, and purchase tickets at kdf.org or call 502-572-3856. Tickets are $175 per ticket, $2,500 for a corporate table of 10. The ball runs from 6:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Of the parties surrounding the Derby and its sister celebration of equine speed, the Oaks, the one to keep in mind is the Fillies Ball. Founded in 1959 by The Fillies Club — now known as The Fillies, Inc. — the Fillies Ball is the progenitor of all Derby balls, parties and galas which have followed in the decades since.
On a warm late February afternoon, TOPS Louisville dropped by Louisville Marriott Downtown to interview Fillies president Kathy Bingham, Fillies Ball chair Susan Moore, and Fillies publicity chair Kristen Miller to talk about the history of the ball and the organization behind it, and what to expect from the 2017 edition.
“The Fillies is a charitable and sociable organization of women who [are] mostly located in the Louisville area, and it was created years ago to support the Kentucky Derby Festival,” Miller said. “One of the first primary roles of The Fillies was to host a Derby ball.”
According to Morris, the ball’s first court had a king — a practice long discontinued for reasons unknown — and its princesses were the daughters of the Fillies founders. Bingham says future royal court members were proposed by friends and family of Fillies members, Miller adding that the organization eventually opened up the process to those in the community who were enrolled in school and demonstrated excellent academic prowess.
The [first ball] was put together so those folks could be official ambassadors,” Bingham said. “Back then, we didn’t have that many events. We had the Pegasus Parade, but we didn’t have the more than 70 events of today. The purpose was to have that ball to crown a queen, go to what few things there were, and mainly to ride on the float during the Pegasus Parade.”
Since the first ball decades ago, the Fillies Ball has not only helped raise funds for the KDF Foundation — who, in turn, give to several non-profits linked to the KDF — but also serves as a scholarship program for the princesses who have come through the ball’s royal court — including a handful of Miss Kentuckys and former Kentucky governor Martha Layne Collins.
“The 2017 ball has been in the making since last summer,” Morris said. “So, thinking about that and being to maybe 20 balls myself, The Fillies have had jockey themes, fleur de lis themes. … Keeping all of that in mind and thinking about the history… I came up with the theme of the royal ball.”
The royal theme of this year’s ball is centered on the court, past knights and dames, and the legacy and future of The Fillies. Each table will have a gold crown-and-flower centerpiece set upon a mirror, surrounded by chocolates by Cellar Door Chocolates and wooden Derby-themed party favors. Red carpet, pull-back curtains, chandeliers, tulle drapes and amber lighting round out the scene.
The program for the Fillies Ball includes raffles for the centerpieces, a 10-ticket giveaway from the KDF, and a silent auction. There will also be an artist from Lexington who will do live painting of the ball during the evening, and the menu has been prepared to appeal to both men and women (think sirloin steaks and stuffed baked potatoes alongside the usual finger foods and salads).
“Of all the balls and all the social charitable events… around the Derby Festival, the Fillies Ball is the one with the history,” Miller said. “This is the one that starts it all off… Even if you’re not a Filly, if you’re from this area, the ball needs to be a bucket list item. You need to go to the Fillies Ball.”