By Payton Carns

The Kentucky Derby Festival crowned Ankita Nair, a third-year medical student at U of L, as their 2024 queen at the festival’s annual Fillies Ball on Saturday, April 13.

Ankita Nair, the 2024 Derby Queen.

The ball, which took place in the Galt House Hotel, highlighted this year’s Derby princesses, who were chosen in January through the Derby Princess Program. Of the five princesses, one is crowned queen from a traditional spin of the wheel; Nair was crowned by the 2023 Queen, Mahshad Taheri.

Mahshad Taheri, the 2023 Derby Queen prior to the 2024 crowning.

Among those in the program are Sarah Downs, a second-year medical student at U of L, and Paighton Brooks, a U of L undergraduate senior, and McConnell Scholar. Bellarmine University student Emma Rhodes and University of Kentucky student Laurel Riggs were also chosen as princesses.

About our Queen

Nair grew up in Louisville and graduated high school in San Diego, California. She attended UCLA as an undergrad, earning a degree in Human Biology and Society; she currently attends U of L’s School of Medicine.

Apart from the Derby Princess Program, Nair has been involved in many local and state organizations, including the Miss Kentucky 2023 Pageant, where she competed with multiple past Derby Queens. Most recently, Nair served as the 2023 Miss University of Louisville.

Nair will serve alongside her fellow Princesses as Queen until the Kentucky Derby Race this Saturday. However, until a new queen is crowned in 2025, she will continue to serve in her role at other KDF and Louisville community events throughout the year.

Young girls help Nair with her new royal cape as she exits the ballroom.

As Queen, Nair is especially appreciative of the people she’s met through her community work as well as the friendship she found with the other princesses.

“I love this season and I love attending these events,” she said. “There are a lot of people in this city who work very tirelessly behind the scenes to put on programming that has no secondary benefit other than to improve community spirit and joy.”

The Princess Process

As princesses, Nair and the other women attend over 70 events over five months to help promote the community and the Derby season; this includes participating in any and all events the Kentucky Derby Festival puts on.

“We’ve gotten to go to their (KDF) headquarters and their board meetings, and really get to know them,” Nair said.

U of L senior Paighton Brooks also cited community involvement as a notable aspect of the program, saying that, “we are essentially ambassadors for the Kentucky Derby Festival, and get people excited for the Derby.”

Not only do the princesses attend festival events, but they engage with the Louisville community through service opportunities, such as JusticeFest, an event in which Jefferson County Public School students pitch solutions to community issues.

One of Nair’s most memorable experiences was the connection to the city’s small businesses. Throughout her time with the KDF, she has visited over 30 small businesses and learned about their service to the community.

“What’s really special about living in the city is there are a lot of people who are very community-minded,” she said.

Paighton Brooks being escorted into the Derby Ball.

Along with the community involvement and promotion, both Nair and Brooks noted that the bond between the other princesses was seminal to the program.

“We’re all so close because of this experience,” Brooks said. “These are girls that I feel like are going to be in my life forever.”

Photo Courtesy // Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal; The Kentucky Derby Festival