The Ohio River Valley is a gold medalist when it comes to seasonal allergies, and just as Kentucky begins to slide into spring, many of us fall victim to hay fever just as hard as we want to soak up the beautiful bluegrass. I like to insist, however, that it’s really just our bodies yearning for what’s been programmed deep within us: horse hair, dirt, turf. That tickle in our noses? The weight in our wallets? That dry scratch in the back of our throats? The thirst is real, y’all, the spring meet has begun and my Kentucky DNA pointed me directly to Rick & Jeff’s Tours: A Daytrip to Keeneland.
Rick & Jeff’s Tours is a bartender-operated gig, run by Jeff Gesser, that hosts charter-bus trips and tailgates to events such as University of Louisville athletic events, Indianapolis Colts games, beer tours and, of course, trips to Keeneland for a day at the races. As much as this little bartender babe adores a sunny day at the track, for me, it’s usually spent at Churchill Downs, because it’s right in my backyard and let’s be honest, I’m getting hammered and so are my friends. So, naturally, when I heard $55 would get me a ride in a charter bus to Keeneland, Bloody Mary’s in the morning, craft beer on the way, lunch when we arrive AND my ticket into the racetrack, I was sold.
We arrived at Bluegrass Brewing Company in St. Matthews (where the tour bus was scheduled to depart at 9:30 a.m.) to find a parking-lot Bloody Mary bar to get the day started. I felt giddy inside. This was the perfect trifecta to begin my day: a giant floppy hat, a spicy Bloody and the fake tampons filled with bourbon I have stashed away in my Hey Tiger clutch (they’re available for purchase at Work the Metal in the Butchertown Market, ladies). A group of about 50, varying from 20-somethings to 70-somethings, we downed our cocktails and piled on the bus to begin our trek to the land of plaid fedoras and, well, more bourbon.
Rick & Jeff’s Tours knows how to meet your every need when it comes to a day of drinking and debauchery. There are three kegs sitting atop trash-bag-lined seats in the middle of the Shockey tour bus. There are fajitas at the tailgate when you arrive. There’s a port-o-let right next to our parking spot at Keeneland. There’s a bottle of Buffalo Trace just sitting there, waiting to kiss my lips. I felt like a fucking tattooed socialite. Sufficiently buzzed, we meandered through the gates of Keeneland — time to bet on some ponies and bet on which one of our friends is going to blackout first.
Bets are made — I always do a $2 trifecta box just like my daddy taught me. By race two or three, I’ve lost 50 bucks and my boyfriend and I are in a stairwell taking shots of bourbon out of a fake tampon. My pretend socialite status has left the building. By race four, my friend James is lost, crying and claiming he’s in “the padlock.” “No, honey, you’re in the PADDOCK. Just wait there, we’ll find you.” By race five, my friend, Sean, has won $800 on an exacta box and we’re all meeting at his “special bar” for shots of Old Forester. By race six, I’ve become one of those “woo girls,” throwing my hands in the air and yelling in pure unadulterated joy each time I see one of the members of Rick and Jeff’s Tours. Some of them really don’t want to hug me, but do I care? I’ve sufficiently stabbed 12 people in the eye with my hat, my shoulders are burnt and I’m feeling that Kentucky-bourbon embrace. It was a successful day at the races if I’ve ever seen one, and I didn’t notice my allergies one time. Rick & Jeff’s Tours take excursions frequently, so luckily you can get in on the fun, too.