LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Accustomed to treating athletes, actors and other celebrities like royalty, Churchill Downs is relishing the chance to host the real thing.
Queen Elizabeth II, an avid horse enthusiast, was scheduled to be part of the huge crowd on hand Saturday for the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.
If ever a person could overshadow the horses at the Derby, this could be the year. Whether the 81-year-old queen planned to publicly acknowledge the crowd remained as much a mystery as which horse would end up in the winner's circle. Race fans were hoping for at least a glimpse.
"I don't know anyone else who has seen the queen, so it would be something to brag about," Rybicki said Friday from the track's soggy infield. He said he'd be ready with his camera if there's a royal appearance.
The chance of seeing a royal wave was enough to spur Gore and his mother, Sandy, to drive from Michigan to attend the Derby.
"Just to be in the same place as royalty, that's a chance most people don't get," Gore said.
Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, arrived in Kentucky late Friday afternoon, touching down in Lexington, 70 miles east of Louisville.
Wearing a lavender coat over a light blue, lavender and white dress, the queen was greeted by Blue Grass Airport director Michael Gobb, his wife, Kristina, and their 9-year-old daughter, Kirsten. Kirsten Gobb presented the queen with a bouquet of pink and white roses.
Also there to greet the queen was former British ambassador Will Farish, who owns Lane's End Farm in central Kentucky.
Officials did not release details about the queen's itinerary, listing the Kentucky Derby as her only public event. On previous visits to Kentucky — the last time in 1991 — she stayed at Lane's End. Farish is providing the queen's tickets to the race.
Saturday's visit won't be the first by British royalty: Princess Margaret, the queen's sister, attended the race in 1974.
"Queen Elizabeth is certainly the most prestigious guest we've entertained in the modern-day history of the Kentucky Derby," track President Steve Sexton said.
The royal couple will visit the track as part of a six-day trip to the United States that also includes visits to Virginia and Washington, D.C.
In Virginia, the queen addressed the Virginia General Assembly and visited the Jamestown Settlement before traveling to Kentucky. In Washington next week, she's scheduled to attend a state dinner with President Bush.
To prepare for the royal visit, a number of Churchill Downs workers took etiquette lessons and the lead chef planned a sumptuous meal featuring a variety of Kentucky ingredients.
For those in the infield, where the beer flows and a carefree attitude reigns, any view of the queen would be from a distance. While the Derby draws plenty of nattily attired fans, the infield crowd is more apt to be in jeans or shorts and T-shirts.
"I don't think it would be her cup of tea," race fan Betty Lyons said of the infield.