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Derby Comes to Oregon District

Derby Comes to Oregon District by Tom Archdeacon for the Dayton Daily News, May 2, 2011

Mint juleps, Kentucky bourbon, colorful racing silks, a 3-year-old thoroughbred out in the street, notable racing figures inside, an acclaimed photo exhibit and a rousing rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” — Derby Week won’t just be celebrated in Louisville this year.

“And They’re Off!” — a celebration of all things Kentucky Derby — will take place Wednesday at the Color of Energy Gallery, 16 Brown Street in the Oregon District.

The free event — except for a cash bar and special Derby eats — begins at 6 p.m.

It’s the brainchild of two men who are always looking for a reason to pass out party favors — Judge Dan Gehres of the Dayton Municipal Court and local artist Mike Elsass, owner of Color of Energy.

“This is just another event to bring the community together and have some fun doing it,” said Gehres. “There’s always been a real connection to horse racing in Dayton and this will be a way to celebrate something the whole world watches. For one evening we hope to bring a little of that pageantry and artistry and love of racing home here with us.”

One of the evening’s centerpieces will be the opening of the “And They’re Off!” photo exhibit by John Engelhardt, the long-time River Downs track publicist, racing show host and accomplished photographer who lives here in Dayton.

His exhibit — which will be on display through this year’s Triple Crown races — chronicles all facets of thoroughbred racing. There are shots that capture the private, fog-shrouded moments on the early morning track, the powerfully-explosive images from the heat of a race and tender scenes later as the horses cool down back at the barn.

Providing some window dressing to the exhibit will be a collection of jockey’s racing silks, Derby hats and other Derby memorabilia.

The evening will begin with the arrival of Road House Blue, a 3-year-old thoroughbred rescue owned by Dayton attorney Larry Lasky and court bailiff Olive Kiley. According to Gehres, the horse placed in the money in all three of his races — one a win — before getting injured.

There will be a segment called “Mixology — The science of the mint julep” and the drink, along with Kentucky bourbons and other libations will be served up by a bartender from Sidebar. There will also be a “Taste of the Derby” — with Hot Browns and Kentucky Horse Race Pie.

George Smith, the successful thoroughbred owner and breeder whose Woodburn Farm outside Dayton produced many champions, will give a short talk on the sport.

Ed Meyer, host of the Winning Ponies show, will discuss handicapping and give a breakdown of this year’s Derby field, whose post positions will be drawn Wednesday.

The night will conclude with Dale Walton — best known from his band Rubbles and the recent Dale Walton’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Circus at Gilly’s — singing his rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” and Dan Fogelberg’s “Run for the Roses.”

“I always look for an opportunity to showcase downtown Dayton and some of our local personalities and businesses and tie them all together with an exciting event,” said Elsass. “This is a perfect way to do it. I think we’re going to have some fun.”