The first year my family lived in Kentucky, I tried to throw a birthday party the weekend closest to my birthday. No one could come. Not one single classmate, church friend, or random neighbour. What could have every person I knew busy on the same day at the same time?
Or, more accurately, the 120th running of the Kentucky Derby. The most exciting two minutes in sports dominates the Bluegrass state the first weekend in May and despite that first setback, I learned very quickly to love the race and everything that went with it. For those who may be uninitiated or just looking for an excuse to throw a party, read on for my top things to know about the Derby.
1. The Run for the Roses
Since 1904, roses have been the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. The winning horse is draped in a garland of 400 roses, which means you can easily justify buying a dozen or two for your house. The rose is also a prominent feature on dresses or hats for dashing Derby ladies.
2. The Hats
While Royal Ascot and other European horse races have an official dress code, the Derby’s dress code is wholly unofficial. Depending on where you’re viewing the race, it may be slightly impractical to wear heels and a pastel dress. That being said, no matter where you are, there will be hats. Giant fascinators, floppy brimmed sun hats, and structural works of art. Even if you’re just watching at home, I encourage you to throw on your most dramatic hat. It makes any day much better.
3. The Queen
In 2007, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended the race. A keen fan of horse racing and an owner of championship horses herself, HM said it was one of dreams to attend the Derby. It’s the most validation I’ve ever felt about having lived in Kentucky.
4. The Drink
It wouldn’t be the Derby without Mint Juleps! Historians disagree slightly as to when the drink was invented, but it first really hit the scene in 1803. (For my lovely European readers, this is old by American standards.) Made with Kentucky Bourbon, sugar, mint, and seltzer; the julep is a refreshing drink for a hot day. Keep the recipe on hand all summer long.
I hope this helps you feel a little more at ease tomorrow when 20 three-year-olds hit the hollowed ground of Churchill Downs for the 143rd time. Raise a glass, don your chapeau, and belt out My Old Kentucky Home and enjoy two minutes of history and charm.