Kentucky Derby

You pick who goes to the Derby

We asked for deserving folks, and you responded with an amazing cross-section of Kentuckians. A husband any women would covet, a nurse whose daughter will undergo surgery, a pair of teachers who work with children with behavior problems, and a college student who will be the first in his family to graduate topped a list of nominees for trip to the Kentucky Derby on the Herald-Leader's dime. We've narrowed the list to four, now you can pick the lucky winner, who will receive tickets to the race, brunch and two grandstand seats.

You can vote by clipping out as many original ballots as you can from copies the Sunday Herald-Leader, or you can vote once at Kentucky.com.By mail: Original newsprint ballots only. Drop off in front lobby 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or mail to: Herald-Leader newsroom, Derby Contest, 100 Midland Avenue, Lexington, Ky., 40508.Voting ends April 22.

The mother

Several friends and family members nominated Nikki Sheffer, who has been caring for her daughter, Cayla. When horse-loving Cayla was 5, she was treated for a non-cancerous tumor and scoliosis. Now 11, she is scheduled for another operation because the tumor has returned. Nominators thought attending the Derby would give mom and daughter something to look forward to while Cayla is recuperating. Nikki, a Morganfield nurse, said when she was a girl, she'd attend the races at Ellis Park in Henderson with her grandmother, so she has an appreciation for a good $2 bet. Cayla's never been to the races and as nominator Debbie Brown said, "a dress-up fun-in-the-sun day is prescribed." Nikki, 35, said Cayla, usually a straight-A fifth-grader, is raring to buy a hat.

Nominator Sarah Liebman wrote a limerick: Nikki's a fine mother from heaven. She has a daughter, age 11. Young Cayla's tumor is back. Please send them both to the track to keep their unbridled spirits a'revvin'!

The teachers

When Bonita Blair and Chanda Toller saw the call for nominations, they immediately thought of a deserving pair: themselves. "We deserve to go to the Derby, that's for sure," said Blair, with a laugh. Blair is a teacher and Toller a teaching assistant at Lexington's Booker T. Washington Elementary. They teach children with severe behavior problems who need so much supervision that Blair and Toller are with them "for every second of the day." They love their charges, but it is a challenging job. Blair said, "We are dying to get dressed all fancy, wear our little fancy hats." And, she added, "we are both old enough to drink mint juleps," although they declined to give their ages. Blair's been to the Derby a few times, but it would be Toller's first visit. But for both, Blair said, it would be a much needed "mini vacation."

They wrote in rhyme: We deal with tough kids everyday. We'd love to dress up and play. Send us to the Derby. That's all we can say. Then maybe we'll survive the merry month of May.

The husband

When Janice Berry walks in the room, her husband, Robert, 60, hands her the remote. He folds his towels when he gets out of the shower. A "pididdler" who can't stay still, he feeds the birds. He does the yard work. After a long day of toiling at Wal-Mart, the retired Folsom Prison guard comes home and cooks supper. "He just does it all," said Janice, 58. Said Robert, who moved to Kentucky from California a few years ago: "I guess I'm just domesticated. I guess I thought everybody did that stuff." Not so, said Janice, who claims she is the envy of all friends at the call center where she works. Their house on Wolf Creek Lake near London is, Janice said, "a little slice of heaven." A Derby trip would make them feel like a true Kentuckians, a group Janice defines as "the nicest people in the world."

Janice wrote: Because he is my knight, makes me laugh, holds my hand, finishes all projects and my sentences, loves his family, pets and sports, works so hard and does what his wife tells him.

The college grad

The day after Derby, Jared Cunningham, 23, graduates from University of Kentucky. Like a lot of people who pay their own way through school, his attitude is "thank God, finally." But what sets him apart is that he's the first person in his Madisonville-based family to graduate. Nominated by girlfriend of two years, Rachel Ashby, Cunningham hopes to take his dad, Mike, to the Derby if he wins. "My Dad was always telling me to do something good for myself and then give back to the community," said Cunningham, who sees creating beautiful landscaping as a way to do that. He's already made a mark on one life. His 8-year-old cousin, Jordan Cunningham, who thinks Cunningham hung the moon, has "already told his teacher he is coming to UK," Cunningham said. The Derby would be a last blast of Kentucky before he heads to a job in Madison, Wis.

Rachel wrote: Jared is a hard-working individual graduating this May from UK. He is a Madisonville native and Kentucky boy through and through! FIRST generation graduate deserves a memorable graduation for his hard work!

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 Vote for the Kentuckian most deserving of Derby tickets:

Robert Berry



Bonita Blair/Chanda Toller



Jared Cunningham



Nikki Sheffer





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Official rules:

One vote per person. Duplicates will be expunged. Entrants and voters agree that Kentucky.com and Herald-Leader decisions regarding contest entries and winner are final and binding. Void where prohibited by law. Providers of the prize are not sponsors of nor are they in any way associated with this contest.

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