On Thursday evening, as my friend and I walked back through the Keeneland grandstand at about 5:30 pm, we saw a line of people snaking through the grounds. They had folding chairs and radios, books and decks of cards. They were in for the long haul.
“They’re here for the bourbon bottle signing tomorrow.”
The bourbon bottle signing?
Friday was the Maker’s Mark Mile, a sponsorship that the bourbon folks seem to take pretty seriously. Flags advertising Maker’s Mark dotted the grounds; several sections of the grandstand were devoted to Maker’s Mark, with hundreds of racing fans wearing red baseball caps emblazoned with the company logo; and some Keeneland staff wore black top hats coated with the trademark melting red wax. Oh, and some of these were floating around, too.
But the hallmark of this sponsorship is the signing of the annual commemorative bottle, and the anticipation of and preparation for this event put the annual pre-dawn Travers day line to shame.
The bottles go on sale the Friday before the race, and a Keeneland press release details the procedure for getting them signed:
In an effort to better accommodate the growing legion of fans who attend the Maker’s Mark bottle signing at Keeneland, a few guidelines and a ticketing system have been put in place. Security officials will begin distributing tickets Thursday evening to fans in line who are 21 years or older. The ticket will allow each holder to have up to two of the 2009 commemorative bottles signed. Tickets will not be numbered and will not dictate a place in line, but will assure the holder up to two bottles will be signed. Anyone leaving the line after receiving a ticket will have to return to the end of the line. All ticket holders should be in line by 6 a.m. on Friday, April 10.
A concession stand will be open to serve beverages and snacks throughout the night before the signings. No coolers and no alcohol, other than the 2009 commemorative bottle, will be allowed inside the gates.
I wonder how many of those bottles arrived at the signing still in their virgin state, that red proof of purity intact?
Unconfirmed reports say that in a further effort to minimize the discomfort of those seeking signatures, the movie Seabiscuit was shown on the infield screen during the night.
Those unfortunate enough to have missed Thursday night’s festivities can get their signed bottles, for a bit of a mark-up but a lot less discomfort (and, of course, devoid of the best part) on Ebay. I wonder if this guy wishes he had gone that route?