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Derby Festival announces 2023 Royal Court

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville just got a little more royal this morning, as the Kentucky Derby Festival introduced the 2023 Royal Court during an event at Dillard’s in Mall St. Matthews. Five young women have been selected to serve as Princesses for this year’s Festival and will act as ambassadors for the Festival and community as they attend more than 70 events this spring. National tea company, Luzianne, is bringing more Southern charm and scholarship money to the Royal Court Program as the new Presenting Sponsor.

The Program celebrates the state’s most civic-minded and academically achieving college students, and each woman receives a $2,000 scholarship ($1,000 from the Fillies, Inc., and $1,000 from the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation). New for 2023, Luzianne® Tea presented the five Princesses with an additional $1,000 scholarship. Each Princess will now receive $3,000, a combined total of $15,000 for the Royal Court Program.

“For the past six decades, seeing the Derby Festival Princesses out in the community has been one of the most visible and anticipated signs that the fun and excitement of the Derby Festival season is around the corner,” said Matt Gibson, Kentucky Derby Festival President & CEO. “We’re honored to partner with Luzianne Tea, an iconic brand that shares our values of celebrating traditions that bring people and communities together.”

For Luzianne Tea, the Derby Festival’s passion for Southern family traditions made its sponsorship of the Royal Court Program a natural fit for the more than a 120-year-old company.

The 2023 Royal Court was selected after attending final judging over the weekend with 23 other finalist candidates. There were dozens of original applicants for the Royal Court Program, representing colleges and universities from around Kentucky and the region. All of the applicants went through preliminary judging in November. The Royal Court is coordinated by The Fillies, Inc., a volunteer group that works closely with the Festival.

The members of the 2023 Court are:

  • Hayley Benson of Louisville, KY – Hayley, 21 years old, is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Biology on the Pre-Medical track. She’s a Woodford R. Porter Scholar, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholar, a recipient of the Humana Foundation Scholarship Program, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She works as a General Chemistry I Structured Learning Assistant for UofL’s Resources for Academic Achievement.
  • Lauren Carter of Lexington, KY – Lauren, 22, is a senior at the University of Kentucky Lewis Honors College, double majoring in Management and Marketing on the Pre-Law track. She is a Merit Scholar, Vice President of the Order of Omega Leadership and Honors Fraternity, has received the Girl Scouts Bronze and Silver Awards, is involved in Best Buddies, and is the Founder of Stop Throwing Stones: A Kindness Movement.
  • Mallory Hudson of Bowling Green, KY – Mallory, 21 years old, is a junior at the University of Kentucky majoring in Communications and minoring in Political Science. She has served as an ambassador for Jovani Fashions and is the reigning Miss Bowling Green, as well as the founder of Inclusive Stages, which provides theatrical experiences for individuals with special needs.
  • Mahshad Taheri of Louisville KY – Mahshad, 21 years old, is a senior at the University of Louisville majoring in Finance. She is a Jones Scholar, a SHPEP Scholar, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholar, founder of MENASA (Middle Eastern North African Student Organization), volunteer for Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a mentor for College Mentors for Kids, and works for the Admissions Office and Campus Housing Department at UofL.
  • Valerie Tran of Louisville, KY – Valerie, 22 years old, is a senior at the University of Louisville majoring in Industrial Engineering. She is the Executive Director of raiseRED Dance Marathon, co-founder of the Homeland Project, a Vogt Scholar, member of Chi Omega Sorority. She has been named Volunteer of the Year (by UofL) and Young Philanthropist of the Year (by the Association of Fundraising Professionals).

Two alternates were also chosen – Brooke Berry, of Eminence, KY, a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, was chosen as the first alternate. Arushi Gupta of Louisville, KY, a senior at the University of Louisville, was chosen as the second alternate. They will become Princesses if one of the other women cannot serve.

One of the five Princesses will be crowned the Derby Festival Queen by a spin-of-the-wheel at the annual Fillies Derby Ball on Saturday, April 15 at the Louisville Marriott Downtown.

Since 1959, the Royal Court Program has been overseen by members of The Fillies, Inc., a non-profit organization with 250 community volunteers who work closely with the Derby Festival. Candidates for the Princess Program must maintain a minimum 3.0 grade-point average and are selected by a panel of three out-of-state judges. Criteria for selection include knowledge of the Derby Festival, poise, intelligence, personality and campus and community involvement.

The first Derby Festival Princess was crowned in 1957, the second year of the Festival. Previous Princesses have included former Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins and the late Gail Gorski, the first female pilot ever hired by United Airlines.

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