“Good Evening, Ladies and Gentleman, this is your Captain speaking. Welcome aboard Delta airlines 007 from Dubai to Atlanta, our flight time this evening will be 15 hours and 34 minutes.”
The great adventure had begun, writes Dan Cappell. I was flying Dubai to Atlanta and then on to Nashville, Tennessee while my chosen guest (my brother-in-law), was taking an even longer route from Auckland, New Zealand, via Honolulu to Louisville for the 2013 Brown Forman Kentucky Derby charity trip. It promised to be the trip of a lifetime…
Day 1: Arriving in Nashville
Some 24 hours after the Captain’s welcome aboard, I checked into the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, ranked as one of the top 100 luxury hotels in the world. It didn’t disappoint and I would recommend anyone to stay there if you’re ever in Nashville.
The programme detailed a relaxing first day with Jim Perry, the charismatic Brown-Forman Global Travel Retail Vice President and Managing Director. It was Jim’s vision to conduct a travel retail auction of a once-in-a-lifetime trip for two to the 2013 Kentucky Derby with all proceeds going to The Moodie Report Foundation (dedicated to cancer research).
Surrounded by cowboy hats galore, we sampled some of the very best Nashville had to offer. Exquisite food, excellent wine and of course copious amounts of Jack Daniel’s and many happy hours spent in ‘Tootsies’, one of the trendiest country & western bars in the city. What goes on tour stays on tour as they say so I will not digress any further, aside to say thanks Jim for your fabulous company and many laughs in Nashville.
Day 2: Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Lynchburg, Tennessee
After a sedate one-hour drive, Jim and I arrived around 10am at Lynchburg, a hamlet town of only 500 people, that ironically is ‘dry’ yet of course the worldwide production centre of Jack Daniel’s. The secret they say is in the caves and the water source that Jack found 146 years ago.
The site covers over 2,500 acres and the distilling process remains the same to this day. Fantastic, traditional Southern hospitality, lunch at Mary Bo Bo’s and a fascinating two-hour tasting with Master Distiller Jeff Arnett, who is only the 7th Master Distiller in the 146 years history of the company, completed a wonderful day at Lynchburg.
Jeff is a true professional and a very gracious host. His knowledge and passion for what he does is, I believe, an inspiration to all who meet him (thanks Jeff for a brilliant couple of hours). Leaving Jeff in Lynchburg, we set off for Louisville and five hours later pulled into the Marriot Louisville… the Derby was only three days away.
Day 3: Meeting a riding legend
My guest and brother-in-law had flown in from New Zealand and after a ‘quiet night’ Kiwi style in Louisville we met Jim Perry (above right) at 6.30 am on Thursday and headed off to Churchill Downs – home of the Kentucky Derby.
Brown Forman is a major sponsor and their Woodford Reserve brand is the official Derby Bourbon. The Brown Forman Marketing and Media team, led by PR Director and guru Mr Rick Bubenhofer, were out in force and most gracious hosts. They had somehow arranged for us to have 90 minutes with ex-US Champion jockey Donna Brothers (above second from left).
Donna retired in 1998 having ridden 1,171 winners in her career. She currently works for a number of network stations, including NBC, as a specialist racing commentator. Donna was amazing and with good grace and a wicked sense of humour managed to teach us more about horse racing in 90 minutes than in our lifetimes.
I promised Martin before I left that I would pick the winning horse at the Derby and donate those winnings to his charity; Donna had certainly helped in finalising the selection.
Two hours later we were teeing off at Valhalla golf course, home of the famous 2008 Ryder Cup. Our hosts were two of Brown Forman’s executive management team, Mr Jim O’Malley and Mr John Haynes, a 25-year veteran with Jack.
As Mark Twain once said “Golf is a good walk spoiled”, aside that is from Mr Perry who was level par after 8 holes, a magnificent effort no less, with the highlight of his round being a 265 yard 3 wood from rough to within 6 inches on the 16th. The rest of us all had an excellent walk… sorry boys!
As it had been only two days since I landed, the time zones were blending in to the sunset and sunrise as we then headed for dinner at Brown Forman’s head office. Here we had a chance to meet other guests who had come far and wide for the Derby.
The dinner gave the Brown Forman management the opportunity to thank their customers, distributors and sales team during the award ceremony held over dinner. All the time the hype was slowly building for the big race. Yet more experts entertained us and advised us on who would win the Derby.
Was I confused? Yes definitely, but I still had my cunning plan and knew I would deliver on my promise to Martin to pick the winning horse.
Day 4: Putting myself out to stud…
Today saw us travel to the beautiful rolling countryside of Kentucky to visit one of the leading stud farms in the world. One can only say that these stallions don’t have a bad life after retiring from racing and once again we had experts advising us on who would win the big race!
I was becoming more and more confused albeit my plan (and my promise) remained intact.
Next stop was the Woodford Distillery. Whilst on a smaller scale than Lynchburg, the tour and incredible knowledge and humour of our guides made sure that a fantastic four hours were passed before heading back to Louisville for the Mint Julep Ball that evening at the KFC Yum Centre (a US$238 million, 22,500-seat basketball and multipurpose arena).
The Ball’s main function is to raise as much money as possible for the James Graham Brown Cancer Hospital. The guests did not disappoint and whilst I don’t know the final tally, over US$125,000 was raised for cancer research and development during the evening, a truly fantastic effort. Jim Perry was holding up well and proving a wonderful host. Excitement was really brewing now with less than 24 hours to the race.Day 5: Race Day
In racing terms, it looked like bad news as the weather had changed overnight from being beautiful all week with clear blue sunny skies to a wet winter’s day. It was pouring. The networks were going crazy, conditions were worsening and the form book was being thrown out of the window… yet I remained confident about delivering my promise to Martin.
Talk about style, those Brown Forman guys do it exceptionally well. A police escort to the track reduced our journey time by about two hours and then we were ensconced in a luxury suite on level 5 in the main grandstand overlooking the winning post. Wow!
The Derby was not due until 5.30 pm so after an excellent lunch and great conversation with other guests, it was time to assess the winnings and my betting strategy. Our syndicate was about US$1,000 ahead by 3 pm and me personally breaking even…ish!
The going had gone from hard to sloppy and it was mind boggling to imagine 20 beautiful animals running over a mile in these conditions. Swimming would have been more appropriate as the rain kept pouring.
It was time to implement my strategy to deliver on that promise. The look on the teller’s face when I said I wanted x number of $ on every horse was an absolute picture. “What, all 20 of them?” he asked, as he tried to explain the ‘intricacies’ of odds etc. It was clear that he thought I was one dollar short of a wallet full when I paid up and took a massive stack of betting slips back into the suite.
Divine intervention sometimes makes you smile and the rain gods were good to us, 15 minutes before the race started it stopped. There were over 135,000 people at the big event and the Derby has a reputation for exquisite outfits and hats amongst the Ladies. Suddenly everyone was outside and the noise decibels had increased tenfold. They’re under starter’s orders and they’re off…
At any event when a 50 –1 longshot is in second place two-thirds of the way through the race, the crowds tend to get excited. So do I. And the un-rated Golden Soul was doing just that.
I had US$50 on him to win. My cry of “Come on my son!” was one of many resounding around Churchill Downs. Alas Golden Soul faded to a brave second. After less than two minutes of mayhem, it was the 5 to 1 favourite Orb who crossed the winning line first.
Having backed the field, I had truly delivered on my promise to Moodie San; I had won the Derby and yes the proceeds will be sent to The Moodie Report Foundation.
So many words unsaid, what an incredible few days, it certainly was a bucket list trip of a lifetime and all for an incredible cause, fighting against cancer.
The Brown Forman team were exceptional; a special thanks goes to Terri Cloud and Laura Koch for their handling of all the travel plans and trip details, to Pam Kellams and Kristy Brown – two of the best event planners you could ever meet.
To John and Jim for their company, humor and the opportunity to walk the hallowed fairways at Valhalla; to Rick and his team for the inside track on the race and event and of course to Jim Perry.
Jim many thanks, it was a pleasure having the opportunity to get you know you and your award for having to entertain my brother-in-law and I for nearly a week whilst remaining on top form will be issued in due course.
2013 Derby Winner, Daniel Cappell signing out!
Publisher’s footnote: Dan Cappell is currently Abu Dhabi Airports Company Vice President of Non Aeronautical Revenue and Business and is soon to join Australia Pacific Airports, operator of Melbourne and Launceston Airports, as General Manager Retail & Car Parks.
He was the highest bidder in the Brown Forman Kentucky Derby charity auction on behalf of The Moodie Report Foundation, paying with immense generosity from his own private funds in excess of the US$10,000 minimum.
The picture below of Dan (left) and Jim (right) says it all. Two gentlemen, a great company, a great pair of American whiskies, a great event and, most of all, a great corporate social responsibility initiative. True gentlemanhood.