Lee County has its own traditions when it comes to the most exciting two minutes in sports. 

Derby Day was celebrated at Storybook Farm this year, and despite the pandemic, guests were dressed to the nines. 

“The Kentucky Derby is my favorite day of the year to begin with,” said Dena Little, executive director of Storybook Farm. “I’m a horse enthusiast and grew up with horses and have ridden my whole life so the Derby’s always been super important to me. It’s a little odd to do it in September rather than the first weekend of May but the weather almost feels like May. 

Storybook Farm is a Lee County local non-profit that gives children a chance to grow and learn through horseback riding. 

Many of Storybook Farm’s children are growing up with challenges like autism, cerebral palsy, cognitive delays, sensory issues and more.

“You’re changing childhoods with every dollar that you spend at this event,” Little said. 

Derby Day is Storybook Farm’s annual fundraising event, though it is normally held in May, in time with the Kentucky Derby. 

Since the derby itself was delayed this year due to the pandemic, so was Lee County’s own event. 

“For the current climate that we’re in, the turnout is fantastic,” Little said. “Everybody’s having a great time, the day is absolutely exquisite. The Lord has really blessed us with very low humidity, beautiful sunshine, the farm is beautiful. And so many people have worked so hard to make this possible for the kids at Storybook.”

The Event:

Before the race is ever run, there is a lot to do at Derby Day. Guests have the opportunity to participate in a silent and live auction, eat and mingle and then there are the awards for Dapper Dan and Most Spectacular Hat. 

“Of course everybody likes dressing up but it’s dressing up for a great cause,” said Liliana Stern, who is a professor at Auburn University and volunteers at Storybook. “And this is what makes this party very special.”

Speaking of dressing up, the choices were broad for Dapper Dan and Most Spectacular Hat. Women wore hats in all colors of the rainbow, some with ribbons, some with bows, some homemade and some from Amazon. 

Neil Kalin, who won the Dapper Dan award, said he has been a patron of Storybook Farm for fifteen to twenty years. He showed up in a blue suit and a tie with horses but the judges said his hat put him over the top. 

“Seeing as though I haven’t won anything in about fifty years, and because of my age, at this stage in life … I’m a very happy, lucky person,” he said. 

Danielle Hayes, this year’s Most Spectacular Hat winner, actually made the winning item herself. 

“I’ve always made my hats because it’s fun,” Hayes said. “I’ve never gotten up there before, so I’m excited.”

Additionally, she wore a purse made from a license plate, more specifically, a Kentucky plate with a horse. 

“Ever since me and my husband were newlyweds, we have supported Storybook Farm,” Hayes said. “It’s a wonderful organization and they put on the best party at Auburn.”


Following the awards, Rep. Joe Lovvorn spoke and then the live auction began. 

“To me, to be able to partner with something as iconic as the Kentucky Derby’s 146th running of the derby, they have yet to miss a race and Storybook is just that important to the kids that we serve,” Little said. “They don’t miss a day. They come out. They enjoy the farm, they enjoy the animals.”

2020-09-05 Storybook Farm

Photos By Robert Noles