ingBuckhead entrepreneur’s longtime passion for horse racing has led to cherished personal and professional experiences.
In 2006, I worked in mergers and acquisitions for Humana, and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky. Through my work, I had the opportunity to be involved with a number of charities, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and many of them hosted galas at Churchill Downs during the two weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby. As I volunteered for those events, often recruiting celebrities to attend the galas, I was introduced not only to horse racing but also to the culture that surrounds the sport. Today, it holds a very special place in my heart.
Every year, we have a group of 10 to 15 people who come together to attend the Kentucky Derby. We all met during my time in Louisville when we were doing that corporate hustling thing, and we are friends who have become family. It’s an incredible mix of people, and we all live in different places across the country. We look at our annual gathering at Churchill Downs as a reunion. We enjoy everything about the experience, from the brunches, the music events and the VIP areas to the traditions we’ve been able to create over the years around this wonderful horse race. It has become a chance for everyone to reconnect, and it brings us—and now our families— back together every year. I met my wife, Luciaetta, at the Derby, and we return each year. We have a 6-year-old daughter, Simone, and I can’t wait to take her to the Derby in 2023. It will be the first time she has attended, and there is so much for her to see and learn.
For instance, when I first was introduced to the Derby, I had no idea that, in its earliest days, the sport was put on the map by black jockeys. They were the best athletes, and they dominated the sport. They were the LeBron Jameses of horse racing. In recent years, Churchill Downs has worked to recognize that and bring more people of color to horse racing and the track. There are also museums around the country highlighting the history of African American jockeys. And horse racing events, as well as polo matches, are becoming popular all around the world.
Three years ago, Hawque Protection Group, the Buckhead-based private security firm I co-founded, was providing professional security services for a client in Kentucky. We were told about The Trifecta, a Makers Club polo event sponsored by Baccarat. As our company began offering security services at various polo matches, I began attending them as well. And for the last three years, our same group of friends that attends the Derby also has branched out for polo weekends. Last year, we went to the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in California. We’ve gone to The Trifecta in Louisville, and we’re talking about planning a trip to a polo match in Lagos, Nigeria. I’ve never been to Africa, and it would be an amazing bucket list item.
It’s wonderful to see so many horse racing and polo activations showing up everywhere, including Miami, Atlanta and my hometown of Georgiana, Alabama. I had never been exposed to horse racing until I moved to Louisville, and now it’s a tradition that I love. I never would have expected it. Going to the Derby or to a polo match is an adventure, and you know that every detail will be perfect from start to finish. When you experience it for the first time, you’ll always want to go back.
HAWQUE PROTECTION GROUP
DO THE DERBY
If you want to experience the excitement of the Kentucky Derby without leaving Atlanta, check out Alpha Derby Weekend, a themed fundraising event hosted each year by Alphas of Atlanta, Inc., a collective of graduate chapters that focuses on social and community oriented programming. It features a golf tournament, a Derby watch party, a jazz brunch and more. alphaderbyweekend.com
PHOTOS: Erik Meadows
15 Minutes With columnist at Simply Buckhead. Freelance feature writer, children’s book author and President of Green Meadows Communications, LLC.