The start gun won't sound at the 139th Kentucky Derby until later Saturday evening, but the weekend's festivities are already well underway after Friday's Grand Gala festivities.
Held at the Marriott-Louisville East, the Grand Gala is a kickoff to the Kentucky Derby's legendary party scene. A gathering of celebrities from all walks of life, the scene prior to the bash feels like a nationally televised awards show rather than the opening bash for a horse-racing event.
Nevertheless, everything feels perfectly intertwined with the Kentucky Derby festivities. All the women and men in attendance are fully dressed in their Sunday's best, with "who are you wearing" becoming the question of the night.
Arguably the most anticipated face in attendance—at least in the world of sports—was Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. The NFL Rookie of the Year, who is recovering from tears to his ACL and LCL, made one of his first public appearances on Friday night since suffering the injury.
The anticipation for his attendance only grew higher following an interesting string of tweets sent out this week. Though it's unclear to what Griffin was referencing—though it's been speculated he was likely talking about the push by Washington D.C. officials to change the "Redskins" nickname—the star quarterback seemed unhappy with our culture's emphasis on political correctness:
Robert Griffin III @RGIII
In a land of freedom we are held hostage by the tyranny of political correctness2013-4-30 20:41:19
The inciting confusion and questions about Griffin's motives did not stop him from attending the Grand Gala. However, as Leslie Neeley of KSTV Sports pointed out, the Redskins signal-caller would not answer questions on the red carpet:
Leslie Neeley @leslie_neeley
RGIII at Grand Gala. Too bad he wouldn't do interviews http://t.co/Z5LmMdNPpo2013-5-4 00:55:33
On the less controversial side of things, the Grand Gala also served as a semi-reunion for NBA legends.
Current TNT analyst and former NBA MVP Shaquille O'Neal took a night off from the playoff grind to also headline the event. He was seen hobnobbing it with other NBA retirees all night, as can be seen in this picture of O'Neal, Ron Harper and Scottie Pippen that Pippen posted on his Twitter feed:
Scottie Pippen @ScottiePippen
Kickin it with @SHAQ and @HARPER04_5 at Grand Gala night before #kentuckyderby http://t.co/FSwonWERvy2013-5-4 01:08:03
Pippen was among the most socially active on Friday night—at least if his Twitter and Instagram feeds were any indication. Again with Harper, Pippen also took time to take a snapshot with former Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.:
In case anyone fell ill, there was also a doctor in the building Friday night—Dr. J, Julius Erving. The originator of the jaw-dropping slam, Erving is among the most regularly social players among NBA retirees and attended with his wife.
Outside of the sports world, celebrities in attendance included Star Jones and Jennifer Hudson, the latter providing the evening's entertainment.