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Behind Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby's Immigrant Grooms Get an Education

The Backside Learning Center offers English tutoring, computer lessons, citizenship and GED classes, tax preparation services, and legal advice.


A few hundred yards south of Churchill Downs' famed twin spires, outside the pomp of the winner's circle and completely removed from the view of Millionaire's Row, sits a squat six-room office with faded green betting windows facing the track. To the uninitiated, it looks like another administration building for horse racing's most famous venue. But to those in the know, it's "a second home," "an opportunity," and a place "full of love."

Officially, it's the Backside Learning Center, "the nation’s only comprehensive educational facility at a racetrack," which for eight years has been operated as a nonprofit by the Kentucky Derby Museum. Executive director Jennifer Hoert says its aim is to "provide education, life skills, and community to backside workers," who care for, work out and help train horses and live in dorms or tack rooms attached to the barns. Because immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala comprise the majority of the worker population, that means offering English tutoring, computer lessons, and citizenship classes. On a deeper level, it means helping transform an often overlooked and overworked group of individuals into a community.

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Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, Juleps for Derby Day, and Hats for Everyone

Two drinks to celebrate Bartholomew Cubbins Day, the hat-based holiday we just made up.


Every Wednesday, GOOD’s Roué in Residence pens a tribute to cocktails befitting the times. This week: Top-notch Margaritas and Mint Juleps to help you celebrate some new holiday math: Derby Day + Cinco de Mayo = Bartholomew Cubbins Day!

Drinking and millinery go together like gin and tonic water. Just ask Raymond Chandler, or SpongeBob Squarepants. Or if you prefer crowdsourcing to celebrity endorsements, just look out your window this Saturday, when the calendar unifies two great spring holidays for those who like to sip cocktails while sporting chapeaux: Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo. I tip my boozy beanie to my editor Amanda Hess, who summed up this weekend’s outlook perfectly via e-mail: “How many hats are people going to be wearing?? So many hats.”

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