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Tommy lost the first toss but convinced his friend to make it the best two out of three.
Once he’d won the game, being a smooth operator even at age 15, Tommy suggested that Gretchyn join him for a game of spin the bottle. (Hey, remember this is the Kentucky Derby and in the infield, pretty much anything legal goes.)
“Well I thought we were going to play with a group of people but Tommy led me to a blanket and no one else was there to play,” she laughed. “He spun the bottle, of course it landed on me, he leaned over and kissed me and that’s how it all got started.”
“It just sounds like such a crazy story when we try to tell this to our kids about how we met,” said Gretchyn.
During the summer of 1983, the young couple’s romance grew. Tommy would visit Gretchyn by riding his bicycle several miles to her home and by the fall, they would talk for hours on the telephone after school. Before long, he asked her to go steady and gave her his ring.
“My parents were pretty lenient while I was growing up. They were only strict about New Year’s Eve and the Kentucky Derby, so I never told them I had met Tommy at the third turn,” Gretchyn said. “We told my parents we met at Seneca Park and never revealed the truth until right before we were married in 1992.”
They had a June wedding – come on you can’t get married on Derby Day – but the couple, who have now been married for 38 years, celebrate their anniversary each year on the first Saturday in May.
Churchill Downs is such an important part of Tommy and Gretchyn’s story that they started taking their three children to the track for the spring and fall meets when they were young.
“Our children are grown now and when our daughter brought home a new boyfriend, the first thing my dad did was pin a Kentucky Derby Festival pin on him and gave him a hug,” Gretchyn said. “That’s how we all feel about this time of year.”
Derby season is a special, maybe even a magical time of the year in Louisville. “There must be some kind of Churchill Downs track magic involved when you become Mrs. Furlong after a chance meeting on the third turn,” Gretchyn said.
True, maybe only “track magic” can result in a chance meeting on a hot and sunny Saturday when Sunny’s Halo won the Kentucky Derby and a teenage boy with the last name Furlong, tossed a coin to win a kiss with a pretty girl who says she won her future husband during the “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs.