Rolex Kentucky has been a fixture on my calendar since I was a teenager. I attended annually as a spectator, and when I started working at the Chronicle as an intern, I begged for press credentials and promised to use vacation time to go. Not only did I get into the press tent that year, but I also got to stand in the NBC trailer and watch cross-country with Jimmy Wofford and Capt. Mark Phillips. Talk about an exciting weekend!
Since then I’ve gone to Rolex almost every year as a journalist. There was the one year when I ended up working the booth for our advertising and marketing team, and there have been two years where I didn’t attend. Last year I thought I’d be clever and stay home and compete my own horse. That went exceptionally poorly—I didn’t even get to go cross-country as we got eliminated in show jumping.
So this year I was not going to miss the event. Clearly, it was unlucky to stay home. Also, my trainer, Sharon White, was riding. In fact, Sara Kozumplik, the girlfriend of my other trainer, Brian Murphy, was also riding, so I was pretty psyched to cheer for them. Who cares about William Fox-Pitt when your friends are competing?
There are lots of things about being a member of the press corps at Rolex that you don’t read about online or in the magazine. Alltech throws an awesome party for the media every year, and Rolex also hosts an impressive fete on Saturday night, which is always a highlight. Plus, there are journalists and photographers who I only see at Rolex Kentucky. I have to be honest that at this point I go as much for the social scene as the event. (I mean, if I actually wanted to see the cross-country, I’d stay home and watch it on the USEFNetwork. As a photographer, you only see the fence at which you’re standing.)
Things got off to a rollicking start at the aforementioned Alltech party. Editor Beth and I don’t get to see much of our co-worker Kat Netzler, since she moved to Chicago last year, and the three of us were joined by another Chronicle colleague, Molly Sorge, who was there with her husband on vacation. You just can’t get away from Rolex, I’m telling you. We had a marvelous time. Pearse Lyons gave Molly $50 for knowing the answer to his question of the evening, and he made sure Kat and I went home with a bottle apiece of our favorite Alltech libation—Bluegrass Sundown.
But from there, things took a radical turn for the worse. First there was the computer fiasco. Mac laptops don’t do so well with coffee on the keyboard. Who woulda thunk? So rather than socializing on Friday night, we spent a subdued evening grabbing dinner and heading to Walmart for a bag of rice in which to submerge the now defunct laptop.
It wasn’t going to get better. When I arrived back in our shared hotel room—yes three of us were sharing one suite—I learned that Beth was feeling terrible. She’d been violently sick twice on the way from the car to our sixth-story room, and she wasn’t on the mend yet.
The next time she sprinted to the bathroom (around Kat on the pullout couch), she returned and said, “I might need to go to the hospital.” I filed that comment away, thinking perhaps she was over-dramatizing. The next time, she needed my help to make it to the porcelain throne, and I revised my earlier diagnosis.
“Maybe we do need to call 911,” I suggested.
Beth made it back into bed, and although I don’t think any of us slept all that well, she was able to stay there for the rest of the night. There was a slightly amusing interlude as I stumbled around our floor, minus contact lenses or shoes, looking for a vending machine and some gingerale, only to discover a police officer guarding the doors of most of the rooms on the hall. He’d laid cardboard strips against each door so it would be obvious if any of his school-trip charges snuck out. He advised that I try downstairs for gingerale.
As Kat and I dragged ourselves out of bed the next morning, it was clear that Beth wasn’t going anywhere. We hopefully discussed her coming to the Horse Park later when she was feeling a bit better and left her with bottles of water and dry cereal in case she got hungry.
Saturday was kind of a bust. The photos were great, but Kat was out waiting on course for an hour before a horse finally made it to her, after the first three were eliminated or retired. Sharon made the horseman’s decision to pull up four fences from home when her mount let her know he was tired. Sara finished, but Manny wasn’t quite right that night, and she decided he wouldn’t be show jumping either.
I called Beth in the afternoon just to make sure she was alive. She was, but she wasn’t going to be leaving her bed anytime soon.
As the hour got later and later at the press center, Kat and I gave up all hope of attending the Rolex dinner. She was able to work, thanks to borrowed computers from Beth and Molly, but we were significantly slower without our third cohort. The two of us have been supporting each other in a weight-loss goal, but we made the mutual decision to throw in the towel that night. Cake and almonds for dinner! (And yes, there was pizza later on as well.)
Beth did in fact make it to the Horse Park on Sunday for a few hours, but I’m pretty sure the only thing she’d eaten since Friday night was a few saltines. She wasn’t exactly at her sharp-witted best.
The weekend didn’t turn out to be all bad. Kat’s computer came back to life after 36 hours in a bag of rice. While William Fox-Pitt’s win was nice for him, I was excited to see Allison Springer finally put together three great phases with her talented-yet-tricky Arthur.