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Spotlight on Leadership 5-7-12
The D&D Daily e-Newsletter for the LP & Safety Industry


I'll Have Another
Protecting the Kentucky "Crown"
Kroger's LP Team & The Kentucky Derby

By Katie Tuttle
Content Manager
I'll Have Another, the 2012 Kentucky Derby Winner, heads to the Winner's Circle with the Garland of Roses on his back.
On May 5, millions of people tuned in to NBC to watch 20 horses run a mile and a quarter in the 138th Kentucky Derby. When I'll Have Another, this year's winner, arrived in the Winner’s Circle, fans cheered as a blanket of roses was placed on his back.

First run in 1875, the Kentucky Derby is known as "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports." It is also known as the first jewel in the prized Triple Crown. Another, more common name for it however, is the "Run for the Roses," so named because of the rose garland that has been awarded to the winner since 1896.

Since 1987, The Kroger Company has been the official florist of the Kentucky Derby, supplying Churchill Downs with the well-known garland, as well as a 60-rose bouquet for the winning jockey. Each year, Kroger florists at the Middletown, Ky., Kroger sew together some 550 roses to create the symbolic garland. When the garland is completed, it weighs roughly 40 pounds.

The garland is adorned with a "crown" of roses, green fern and ribbon, and sewn into a green satin backing with the seal of the Commonwealth on one end and the Twin Spires and number of the race’s current renewal on the other. The "crown" is a single rose placed in the center of the garland pointing upward. This rose symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to reach the Derby Winner’s Circle.

Don Stearns, LPM, Mid South Division for Kroger, standing in front of a display at the Kroger OfficesThe roses, shipped all the way from Ecuador, arrived at Kroger the Tuesday before the race. They arrived in a refrigerated tractor trailer that was required to stay at a strict 34 degrees. Upon arrival, Kroger loss prevention staff were with the roses 24/7 until they were placed on the winner’s back Saturday evening.

Don Stearns, Loss Prevention Manager, Mid South Division for Kroger has been in charge of overseeing security for the roses for 21 years.

"[We] provide loss prevention staff 24 hours a day to monitor the temperature of the trailer and also to prevent anyone from tampering with [the garland]," Don said. "It’s a one shot deal. If something were to happen to it, everyone would look to the loss prevention team."

Don explains that the LP staff weren’t there in an aggressive way; they were just there in the chance someone would try to do anything. The garland is such an iconic symbol for the Kentucky Derby and they only have one chance to make it right. The LP staff was just there to make sure anyone thought twice before trying to touch the famous roses.

On Friday the Kroger florists began assembly of the garland. Since this procedure was open to the public, at least four loss prevention staff were on site the entire time. At any given time, there were up to eight LP staff with the garland, something which may seem a tedious task. However, the LP team doesn't look at it that way.

"They all just love to do it, they volunteer to do it," Don said. Typically, the same people volunteer for the job every year.

On Saturday morning around 9 a.m., the Garland of Roses was loaded up into a trailer and taken to Churchill Downs, complete with a police escort. Along with the florists who worked on the garland, four LP staff also rode in the trailer.

from left to right (all Loss Prevention Specialists unless noted otherwise) Matt Beach, Mozell Axson, Lee Stewart, Don Sowards, Carolyn Ives (Produce Merchandising), Sara Carter, Barbara Ison, and Jessica Reid (District Loss Prevention Manager).In preparing for the garland’s arrival, Don said they coordinated closely with police at Churchill Downs to ensure everything ran smoothly. However, in this instance the LP team had to do a lot more than just protect the roses from people; they also had to protect the roses from the elements.

"We don’t want to get them there too early because of the temperature of the roses," Don said. They also didn’t want to get them there too late.

Upon arrival at Churchill Downs, the garland was displayed in a 12-foot glass case until the end of the race, when it was carried out and draped across the back of I'll Have Another, the 138th Kentucky Derby winner.

So when you sit in front of your TV screen next May for the 139th Run for the Roses, take the time to appreciate everything that goes into getting that winner’s garland to the track, from beginning to end. It’s not just about the winner who wears it, or the florists who put it together, it’s also about the Kroger LP team members who spent their week watching over each tiny rose.

*Photos courtesy of Don Stearns, Cindy Pierson Dulay, Mendy Hill, and

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