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Run for the Roses

Heading to the Kentucky Derby

Marilyn Belvoix is a fan of the longshot.

In 2005, she put $50 on a horse at the Kentucky Derby with 50-1 odds…and won big.

Belvoix, who is assistant manager of the Friendship Centers Activity Center in Sarasota, has attended the Derby for the past twenty years, and she knows a thing or two about horse races. Though she moved from Kentucky about ten years ago, she still heads to the Churchill Downs Racetrack each year for the world renowned race.

“My husband’s family was very wealthy, and they have a big table on Millionaires Row,” she said. “It’s very high-class.”

The price of an eight-person table at the exclusive Millionaires Row starts at $36,000, and is well-known for being the “in-spot” for celebrities and socialites. People in the special section wear big hats and beautiful outfits – Belvoix included.

“I used to have over 100 Derby hats, I wore a different one every year,” she said. “The people are so fancy and fun.  Everyone has a Mint Julep in their hand – even if you don’t like Mint Juleps – there are waiters in white coats, and broadcasters walk around interviewing celebrities. I’ve met Rosemary Clooney, Reba McIntyre, and many other country stars up there.  And they all come to me, and ask me for advice.”

That’s because Belvoix’s advice may be worth big money. When asked how to place bets, tellers frequently direct patrons to her table, telling them that she’s the one with the answers.

“I worked at Frito Lay in Kentucky for 20 years, and those guys in the factory know how to bet,” she said.  “They go to the tracks every day, and they used to teach me what to look for and what to do. I still email with them before the races and they give me insider tips.”

And while she always bets on a longshot during each trip, she does her homework too. The night before the Derby, Belvoix stays up all night studying the horses and how they run.  Since the Derby is often wet and muddy, she looks to see who runs well in the rain – horses known as “mudders.”

“I look at the good trainers and jockeys, many of whom I’ve met,” she said. “Most of the movie stars don’t know anything about the races, and they know that I do.”

Belvoix also always plays a hunch.

“I go down to the paddocks and watch the horses,” she said. “If the horse’s tail is up and it’s prancing, full of energy, I’ll know it’s the right one.  The horse I won big on, Giacomo – that was a grey horse. I’ll always bet on a grey horse.”

And while she doesn’t think she’ll be winning big again at the Derby this year, she’s excited to head to Kentucky at the beginning of May to try her luck.

“The excitement, the crowds, the hats, the gambling…I love everything about it,” she said. “The best part of the Kentucky Derby is the energy.  It’s a great experience.”

You may know Marilyn Belvoix’s friendly face from the Activity Center in Sarasota, where she is assistant manager. She has worked at Friendship Centers for more than 13 years in various departments.  Marilyn enjoys working with older people and making a difference in the community, and strongly believes in the mission of Friendship Centers: to promote health, dignity and quality of life throughout the journey of aging. While Marilyn is always on the move, she welcomes you to come say hi and enjoy the center!

Sidebar: Friendship Centers will celebrate the Kentucky Derby at the Sarasota Activity Center on May 1. Mint Juleps, mini sandwiches, cheese and fruit will be served, and party-goers will be able to watch the Derby races live on TVs. Cost – $5

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