CASA Among the Winners on Derby Day

Pamela Marin is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

It was Sunday Silence's day, but at local Kentucky Derby outposts, it played more like Saturday Hullabaloo.

At Remick's restaurant in Irvine, party guest Jan Smith squealed, "I won! I won! I won! How did that happen? " (All that for the first of five pre-Derby races-- taped races, mind you, from Santa Anita--run a month ago.)

The Derby Day party at Remick's was hosted by the local chapter of Court-Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, a privately funded, volunteer-staffed agency that provides specially trained adult advocates for abused and neglected children.

The benefit drew 210 guests at $75 each and raised more than $50,000 in net proceeds, including money bid on auction items, underwriting and donations. That amount represents nearly half of CASA's annual budget, according to event chairman Fred Port.

Port and his committee nixed mint juleps ("because they taste really gross," explained one committee member), but otherwise held a traditional line, filling the airy restaurant with bushels of flowers and fixings for a Southern feast.

A banjo-and-clarinet duo worked Dixie melodies as guests sipped mimosas, bid on silent auction items and feasted from buffet tables loaded with baked ham, roast turkey, biscuits and gravy, strawberries and cream, "Derby cheese" (grits, cheddar and cayenne pepper) and Kentucky bourbon balls.

At one dining room table papered with racing forms, Dennis Leibel and pals Fred Sher and Dave Smith sipped champagne and placed bets with CASA funny money.

When a photographer swooped in for a shot, Leibel, sporting "Upsand Downs" suspenders, flashed a smile and flicked a CASA grand.

His wife Susan, executive director of CASA, just rolled her eyes. "This is my husband's track personality," she said with a sigh.

Across town: "Dress up and lose money for a good cause" was how Beverly Thompson summed up the Balboa Bay Club's Derby Day bash.

Thompson was a vision in polka dots, topped with a hat the size of a saddle--a modern note in the mixed-bag, dress-up benefit for two local children's causes, the Orange County Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and Childhelp, U.S.A.

More than 400 guests paid $50 each to enjoy a program similar to the one at Remick's--taped races and the live broadcast from Churchill Downs, funny-money betting, auction bidding, buffet lunch. But many in the crowd at BBC's seventh annual "Run for the Children" dressed thematically. The question was: what theme?

There were a number of Rhett and Scarlett manques (Tara was in Georgia , not the Bluegrass state), as well as half a dozen generically hoop-skirted antebellumites. Suzy Sutton was a standout in a homemade red velvet and white lace creation, complete with lacy pantaloons.

Event chairwoman Joan Richardson was outfitted as a jockey, and joked as she raced between chairwomanly duties, "Me? A jockey? In the last 2 days of setting up this party, I've eaten so many doughnuts, I don't think I'd get past the weigh-in room."

Tom Matthey wore white knickers and spats because, well, "I collect antique cars and these go with the cars."

Matt Schafnitz wore a silk tie with a fishing motif, "which just shows how confused I am," he said.

Proceeds, not yet tallied, were expected to be $70,000, according to BBC social director Linda Essig.

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