Hats Off for the Kentucky Derby

BlogHer Original Post

Fear not party fanatics - even if the Royal Wedding is over, you have another occasion to don your favorite hat and celebrate this weekend. The countdown is on for the biggest day in horseracing of the year.

The 137th Kentucky Derby takes place Saturday, May 7, marking the first leg of the annual Triple Crown. Every year, the Churchill Downs race track plays host to horses, celebs, big hats and boozy minted concoctions called juleps.The race is known as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports"  and is also called "The Run for the Roses" for the lush blanket of red roses draped over the winner.The Derby is an annual tradition, rich in history for Louisville, but as much as it is about tradition, it's also about watching the world's most athletic horses and jockeys peel around the famous track.

Past Derby winners such as Secretariat and Barbaro have storied pasts. This year's top contenders include Uncle Mo, Dialed In, Nehro and Archarcharch. Other horses in the race such as Midnight Interlude and Pants on Fire, have won the Santa Anita Derby and Louisiana Derby respectively and have a legitimate shot. Make sure to pick up some racing form guides so you can assess each horse's chances. ESPN also has a horse racing hub with plenty of lead-up coverage and analysis. It's more fun if you read up on the jockeys and their colorfully named equestrian counterparts in advance of the big day.

Women at the Race Track: Keep an eye out for jockey Rosie Napravnik who believes her mount, Pants on Fire, is a Triple Crown threat. Napravnik can become the first female jockey to triumph in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday if she and Pants on Fire can repeat their rousing victory in the Louisiana Derby. Napravnik will be the first woman to compete in the 'Run for the Roses' since Rosemary Homeister Jr. was up the track in 13th with Supah Blitz in 2003. The quest began with Diane Crump, who came home 15th aboard Fathom in 1970. No matter what happens on Saturday, trainer Kathy Ritvo is a winner. Three years ago she was watching the Kentucky Derby on TV from a hospital bed waiting for a heart transplant. This year she is saddling her first Derby horse, Mucho Macho Man listed as a 15-1 shot.

Derby Day: A lot of people don't realize that Derby Day is really no different from any other race day at Churchill Downs, except for the fact that one of the races in the regular schedule is the most watched, and most wagered on horse race in the world. There are 10 races being run before the Kentucky Derby race is ran, and two more races take place after the Derby.

If you can't actually make it to Louisville -- you can still sip mint juleps, snack on derby pie and wear a big hat at a Derby viewing party. It's kinda like a Superbowl bash except the headline event is over in the blink of an eye. Still, it's a great excuse for some traditional Derby vittles and libations. Whether you're in it for the high fashion, the time-honored tradition, or the athleticism, here's how to add a few unique touches and make the most of the event.

Costume: A distinct flavor of Southern style lends an air of authenticity and if you're in doubt what to wear, Southern Living has a guide to traditional attire for aspiring Derby dames. A best hat contest can be a fun side event that helps fill the time waiting for the big race.

The Jackpot: Everyone likes to win something so if you don't get the best hat award perhaps you can gamble on the ponies instead. At most Derby parties, a jackpot is collected for the featured race with each guest putting in a set dollar amount and randomly drawing a horse's name from a hat. There are variations on the rules so, for example, the guest with the winning horse may take the entire jackpot, or there may be a payout for first, second, third, or last place (or some other pre-determined payout) A variation on the jackpot allows guests to determine their own fate by picking a horse to win. In this version, guests buy a horse and share the overall pool gathered for that race with all others who also have the winning horse.

Mint Juleps: A grand tradition associated with the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. Churchill Downs uses the pre-mixed Early Times Mint Julep found in most liquor stores but you can make the juleps from scratch. The mint should be spearmint and as fresh as possible (just picked from the garden is ideal) and the bourbon should be least 10 years old. Bruise the mint gently and grind the ice until it almost floats. Add just enough simple syrup to give a hint of sweetness and serve in a frosted pewter cup on a lace napkin. Before the Derby runs, toast to a good race and try to calm your fears about placing that longshot bet.

Derby Pie Food is the centerpiece of every party and a Derby party without a Derby pie is just a regular party. Invented over 50 years ago at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, this intense chocolate treat has become so popular that the name has been trademarked and more than 100,000 pies are sold each year. Inside the delicate crust is a filling of chocolate and nuts (walnuts not pecans) that is so sweet even whipped cream can't soften the blow. You can do a quick Google search for a recipe or simply order one online. Best consumed with a mug of strong coffee.

Details: Post time is 6:24 p.m. on Saturday, and the forecast in Louisville calls for temperatures in the mid-60s. The official Derby app lets you read up on the pedigree of your favorite horse, use the bet calculator to tinker around with your wager, and check the schedule so you don't miss any coverage leading up to the race itself.  After it's over, celebrate all the money you're bound to win off Uncle Moe.

Side Note: There was a fair amount of outrage the last couple of years when race horses Zenyetta and Rachel Alexandra were named among AP's Female Athletes of the Year. While mares and fillies rarely get the same attention as their male counterparts, it is hard to believe there weren't actual "athletes" worthy of the honor. Still, any time a sport is turned upside down by a female, especially when most say it can't be done, it helps women everywhere,


(Image Credit© Scott Serio/Eclipse/ZUMAPRESS.com)


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