Hotel Added to Spice of This Event’s Life

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Jenine Sahadi, the trainer of The Deputy, one of the favorites in today’s Kentucky Derby, is staying at the historic Brown Hotel.

Since the Brown opened in downtown Louisville in 1923, the rich and the famous--and even a few turf writers--have stayed there.

Actor Victor Mature was once an elevator operator at the Brown, arching his bushy eyebrows for guests well before he arched them in Hollywood.


At the Brown’s English Grill, one of the best restaurants in Louisville, singer Al Jolson was punched out in a fight. Jolson needed his makeup man to cover the black eye.

When Lily Pons, the diva, stayed at the Brown, she shared a suite with her pet lion cub.

The Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich, a local delicacy, originated at the Brown Hotel. In 1923, the year the Brown opened, the hotel held dances that went into the wee hours, the guests staying for breakfast. Some of the regulars tired of ham and eggs so Fred Schmitt, the hotel chef, dreamed up the Hot Brown--fresh turkey breast on toast points, topped with bubbling hot cheese sauce, fresh tomato, mushrooms and crisp bacon. It’s been on menus all over Kentucky ever since.

The Kentucky Hotel, also located in the downtown area, is no more, having been converted into an apartment building.

When it was still a hotel, Oscar Otis of the Daily Racing Form and a few cronies got a horse at Churchill Downs, brought him to the hotel, put him on an elevator and took him to a room. It’s probably apocryphal that one of the revelers then called down and requested an extra bible.

But that’s not the craziest thing that’s happened at the Derby. Once, Bill Shoemaker arrived at Churchill Downs at 4:30 a.m. in a tuxedo, and worked a horse. Not just a horse, but Lucky Debonair the winner of the 1965 Derby.

A goofy stunt, but Shoemaker knew what he was doing. He took off his dinner jacket and cummerbund before he got on the horse.