Unbridled Eve Derby Gala is, at its core, a family affair, and this year, by supporting 17 local charities, has proven why it is known as the “Party with a Heart.”

By Tonya Abeln

It seems like the race is always on for the Unbridled Eve Derby Gala planning committee. Pulling off an epic event of this magnitude, especially on the biggest party night of the year in Louisville, takes year-round planning, strategizing and execution. Sure, the group of passionate volunteers, assembled and led by founding sisters Tonya York Dees and Tammy York Day, know how to make it look easy, but even in their sixth year, they managed to surprise and thoroughly entertain the hundreds of guests that converged upon The Galt House Hotel Grand Ballroom, revealing, as always, a new delightful detail at every turn.

In the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, local headlines are filled with the names of celebrities, announcing who can be expected to attend each of the signature Derby events. Every year since its inception in 2012, Unbridled Eve has played Derby Eve host to an impressive roster of actors, musicians, athletes, authors and captains of industry. These celebrity guests are not paid an appearance fee and are not segregated from the rest of the crowd; often, at the delight of guests, they are seated at tables alongside ticketed attendees. Many of them traditionally make a sizable donation to the event or contribute one-of-a-kind packages to the auction. It is not unusual to rub elbows with the day’s winning jockey of the Kentucky Oaks or the following day’s winning jockey, owner or trainer of the Kentucky Derby. UE’s guest lists have included Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winners, each year revealing fresh faces alongside familiar names that will join the ever-growing Unbridled Eve family.

The word family is used a lot in reference to Unbridled Eve Derby Gala, and it is a concept and a mission forged from the very beginning by founders, the York sisters. Both well established business leaders within the community, Tonya as the president and owner of York Management and Tammy as the Chief Operation Officer of Delta Dental of Kentucky, individually, they contribute unique skills to the planning and execution of such a considerable undertaking. Together, they are able to spread the sense of family from their own relationship to volunteers, visiting celebrities, corporate supporters and now, through a family of select charity beneficiaries.

The end goal for Tonya and Tammy has always been to establish a legacy of giving through their gala, a party that has earned the distinction as an Official Kentucky Derby Event. That ambition has come to fruition through The Unbridled Charitable Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that has expanded to support 17 charities this year, and through direct donations to UCF, they have been able to expand their charitable impact year-round.

The two primary beneficiaries for this year’s Unbridled Eve Gala were Blessings in a Backpack, whose charge is to fight childhood hunger by providing disadvantaged elementary school students with meals each weekend, and Fund for the Arts, aiding their efforts to maximize the impact of the arts in Louisville. When Loisville Orchestra Music Director Teddy Abrams attended Unbridled Eve in 2016, the cause of Blessings in a Backpack caught his attention and he enlisted the orchestra to get involved stuffing backpacks with recorders so students could make their own music at home. It was Fund for the Arts meets Blessings in a Backpack through Unbridled Charitable Foudation.

The philanthropic efforts didn’t stop there; this year’s efforts expanded its reach to positively impact 15 other local and national organizations in need including: Animal Care Society; APRON, Inc.; Down Syndrome of Louisville; Jefferson Community and Technical College Student Emergency Fund; Kentucky Natural Lands Trust; Kentucky State Police Trooper Island Camp; Louisville Dental Society Mobile Dental Van; Metro United Way; Miracle League of Louisville, Inc.; Operation Homefront; Supplies Over Seas International; Super Student Athletes; USA Cares; WESTEC (The Blue House); and Winter HAYven.

UE volunteer Melissa Richards-Person recounts of her experience: “The thing I love about Unbridled Eve is it’s such a perfect embodiment of the heart of Southern hospitality. ‘Party with a Heart’ isn’t a slogan or a tag line – it’s real! All of us working on the committee are a family; we laugh together, we play together and yes, we argue, but when it counts, we’re there. That sense of ‘family’ extends to our guests – the way we host our celebrities and the way they want to return year after year, certainly, but every one of our guests is treated with the same grace and care. For example, this year we had 19 signature cocktails that were all created by the same amazing mixologist, Joe Daily. Nineteen! Who does that for one event? I couldn’t believe how he and Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits went all out for the event.”

The cocktail menu isn’t the only thing that is over-the-top. This year’s entertainment line-up was a back-to-back smash-up of world-class performers that kept guests on the dance floor from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. including John Elefante from the rock group Kansas and Wally Palmar of The Romantics fame. Those famous faces alongside Morris Day and the Time and Taio Cruz soon morphed into an all-star jam featuring news anchor Robin Meade, country music artist J.D. Shelburne and television personality Bob Guiney, eventually culminating with performances by The Crashers and DJ Envy.

The Unbridled Eve family has perfected the art of going the extra mile, never content with delivering on only the basics. They work a little harder, plan a little extra and give a little more. It’s a winning formula that has resulted in the success of the event and benefited so many worthy organizations. This year, for several lucky volunteers and celebrity guests, their winning formula extended to the track at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. A group of UE organizers and guests coordinated their annual pool of $1 superfecta bets and collectively won $75,000. They say, “It is better to give than to receive” – when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, this family of volunteers can now speak with authority on both.

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