In the overall weirdness that defines our 2020 pandemic year, the “Run for the Roses” takes place today, instead of the first Saturday in May. And while it feels and looks weird, the excitement will build by this afternoon. I enjoy the crowd in their hats as much as the race. But we will be here at home, in our hats, with a mint julep in hand, rooting for the winner. And I will reiterate, it is the “most exciting two minutes” in sports.
BTW, we had the BEST Kentucky Derby parties back in the Bay Area. Ask anyone!!! We had off track betting, hat contest, mint juleps, champagne, and best of all, FUN!!!!
Written in 2008, on our only trip to see the fabulous “Run for the Roses” (the 134th) in Louisville, Kentucky. Fast forward to today, Derby Day is always a great event, in Louisville or here at home!!!
We are headed to Louisville, Kentucky on some free United tickets we got last year when we voluntarily bumped ourselves off of a flight to Washington DC. We do not know what to expect, but we hear the Kentucky Derby is the largest party in the world and the most exciting two minutes in sports. We also hear that there is a famous horse race that day as well. I bought two grandstand tickets on eBay, just in case the big party in the infield gets a little too crazy. The guy we bought the tickets from is a brewmeister from Chicago, and invited to his pre-party about 2-3 blocks from the Churchill Downs Racetrack on Saturday.
We hope to see how Maker’s Mark bourbon is made, visit the Louisville slugger (baseball bat) museum and the Muhammed Ali center. We want to get a taste of famous Kentucky home cooking, including a visit to Colonel Harland Sanders (recipe developed in 1939) and his Kentucky Fried Chicken. Kentucky’s bourbon trail is also known for Jim Beam and Wild Turkey brands.
Kaelin’s in Louisville claims to have invented the cheeseburger in 1934, served with homemade potato chips. Two famous drinks here are the Mint Julep and the Kentucky Cocktail, a mix of bourbon and the local Ale-8-One ginger soda.
Most people think Louisville is the capitol, but it is a little town of 30,000 called Frankfort. Only 4 million people live here. Kentucky is also the home of Fort Knox, and the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, among other famous people. Bowling Green, KY is where Corvettes are made. So, tune in, NBC at 1pm PDT on Saturday for the race. Look for us around the 1/16th pole! Go Big Brown!
Yes, Big Brown won the race in 2008. It was a wonderful experience, seeing everyone dressed up, wearing their festive and huge hats. The southern experience is a bit different from either coast. A little more subdued, but rich in tradition. We started hosting a Kentucky Derby party at our former home in Pleasant Hill, always the first Saturday in May. We generally started around 1pm, though race time was about 4pm PDT. We served champagne and mint juleps. We did some winner take all betting, first place only, for $1 per entry.
But the highlight each year was the Derby hat contest. Derby hats are a BIG deal in Louisville on Derby weekend. Very traditional women bring two hats, one for the Friday Kentucky Oaks race (fillies), and one for Derby day itself. I can testify to this excess since all of the overhead bins on our flights to and from Louisville were filled with hat boxes. When we arrived in Louisville on Thursday before the race, we did not have a hat between us. But after a nice brunch buffet in downtown Louisville, the wait staff convinced (they insisted) us that Sheri needed a nice hat for the Derby. So, off we went to a pop-up hat boutique on the second floor. Wow, the prices ranged from about $100 to $500! She found a suitable, not quite affordable hat, quite decorative, and soon the hit of the hotel, and their staff. I ended up with a Derby baseball cap, boo hoo!
The morning of the Derby we watched people heading over to the track. One group of enterprising young men actually carried a full sized sofa into turn one of the race track! These people are serious about the Derby, and as we soon found out, serious about partying. The attendance was 157,770 people, not including horses. Imagine our shock when the bus showed up at our hotel for the 30 minute ride to Churchill Downs. We figured it would be easier than driving, as the locals had warned us. But the bus turned out to be an old yellow school bus. Some of the bigger people had trouble getting into their seats. Add to that, no seat belts, and more importantly, no air conditioning.
It was an interesting ride. Churchill Downs is a spectacular place, dressed in its best for Derby week. But even more spectacular were the Southern belles in all their finest sun dresses and hats. Even the gents wore white suits and straw hats! The drink lines were longer than the food lines, as expected. We managed to find some lobster rolls, and soft drinks before finding our seats in the grandstand, between turn 4 and the finish line.
After we found our seats, I headed to the long champagne line. I decided I would buy TWO at a time, since the line was very time consuming. What a great idea. But Sheri was getting a little overheated in the Southern heat and humidity, and ended up resting, and cooling off at the track urgent care center. And it seemed forever until the Derby race itself.
Post time was 6:15pm EDT. We bet on Big Brown, the overwhelming favorite, who won by a big margin (5 lengths). I went to collect my winnings and head out to our school bus. Sheri meanwhile, went back to urgent care, but was turned away. They only allowed one “rest” visit!! Can you believe that type of Southern hospitality? Anyway, we decided to leave quickly, and it turned out to be a “blessing in disguise”.
Eight Belles, the only filly in the race, finished second. But during her run out and cool down on the back stretch, she fractured both front ankles, and had to be euthanized at the track. I could not bear to see it, even on reruns later that evening back at our hotel. Over the years, we continued our Derby parties at our home. We decorate in Derby fashion, with lots of plastic and paper horses. But again, the highlight is always the hat contest. We give prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. We even have a professional hat maker, Sara, in the group. I will post some photos of our parties. And remember Stephen Foster’s ballad, “the sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home…..”.
I strongly suggest you go at least once. Not necessarily a water pail or bucket list item, but certainly right up there with Wimbledon, the Indy 500, the Masters, and the Olympics. I would gladly go again!!!