Well, pass the mint juleps because, I do declare, Kentucky Derby time is fast approaching! It’s the time when lovers of horses, hats, racing and bourbon unite for what can only be described as THE GREATEST WEEKEND OF THE YEAR (and that includes Presidents’ Day Weekend when I bought a new mattress and got the box springs thrown in for free!) As May 3rd draws near, I’m getting positively giddy! Instead of trying to curb my enthusiasm, I would rather bask in it and share a few of my favorite things about the Kentucky Derby.
I love the history of the Kentucky Derby. It’s been around since 1875. That makes it the longest, uninterrupted sporting event in U.S. history. The Kentucky Derby didn’t even take time off for World Wars I or II! And, just for grins, if The Kentucky Derby advertised its races in Roman numerals, like the Super Bowl advertises its games, this would be The Kentucky Derby CXXXX!
Through good times and bad, the race has always been held at Churchill Downs. Both the track and the race were the brainchildren of Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark. Yes, he was the grandson of William Clark—the guy who put the “Clark” in Lewis and Clark. That was a family that just kept contributing to our country!
And, of course, we have to talk about some of the history- making horses. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s record breaking win! On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kingman has held the record for slowest run since 1891. Kingman was almost one full minute slower than Secretariat. I’m having flashbacks to P.E. class and my own, um, records!
For almost a century, the Mint Julep has been the “official drink” of Churchill Downs, but it has been around since the beginning of the Kentucky Derby. It is said to have been a favorite drink of Col. Clark.
Even if you can’t make it to the Downs, you can still enjoy a Mint Julep on race day!
Here’s the official Mint Julep recipe of the Derby:
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- Sprigs of fresh mint
- Crushed ice
- Kentucky bourbon
- Silver julep cups
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint. Refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Kentucky bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
Enjoy! An estimated 120,000 Mint Juleps will be consumed on race day at Churchill Downs, so you might as well make a few for yourself.
The Brits have extraordinary attire for royal weddings, but they have not cornered the market on gloriously over-the-top hats! I must confess that I would watch the Kentucky Derby if it was a stick horse race, just as long as I still got to see people in their fabulous hats! (Of course, I would also watch a “Downton Abbey” puppet show if they still had their great fashions.) Since 1875, grand hats have been a Kentucky Derby tradition, and it seems that the headwear has only gotten better and better over the years. Horseracing is the only sport in the U.S. that allows for such a fashion statement—unless you count football fans wearing giant cheese wedges on their heads (which I most emphatically do not!)
If you’ve ever spent a day at the races, you know that the hats also serve the practical purpose of blocking the sun. Heck, some of the hats are large enough to block the sun from hitting the person next to the wearer, rendering them as effective as golf umbrellas. Ooh, don’t you just love it when fashion and function unite?
Run for the Roses
The Kentucky Derby isn’t called the “run for the roses” for nothin’! Did you know that the garland of roses, which is draped over the winning horse, weighs around 40 pounds and includes more than 400 red roses on green satin?
And, say what you will about grocery store florists, but the floral department of a Louisville Kroger assembles the entire garland! Since 1987, Kroger has been duplicating the design of the late Grace Walker, who was charged with the responsibility of designing the winner’s garland in 1932. She designed a total of 35 garlands in her lifetime! Kroger has chosen to follow Ms. Walker’s final design, which includes an embroidered seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky on one side and the twin spires on the other.
The garland is also adorned with a crown of roses, fern and ribbon. There is one rose to represent each competing horse, plus a single rose rising above the others to represent the winner. That single rose is a symbol of the struggle required to make it to the Winner’s Circle. Well, gawrsh! I loves me some o’that symbolism! Plus, I also love that Dan Fogelberg song—“Run for the Roses”.
My Old Kentucky Home
Speaking of songs . . . would someone please pass me a hankie? Because as soon as I hear the University of Louisville Marching Band play the first few notes of “My Old Kentucky Home,” I unashamedly become an emotional wreck! Since at least 1930, this Stephen Foster song has been played during the post parade of horses. I won’t tell you how many years I’ve cried through it, but it’s somewhere between zero and eighty-two!
And, oh those horses! Those beautiful horses walking in a line! Shucks, I’m crying already. To me, the post parade is like a time for all of the horses to take a bow. It’s like the closing ceremony at the Olympics (which also makes me cry, by the way!).
In 1956, John Steinbeck wrote, “The Kentucky Derby, whatever it is—a race, an emotion, turbulence, an explosion—is one of the most beautiful and violent and satisfying things I have ever experienced.” Gee, that Steinbeck guy should have become a novelist because he really had a way with words! I don’t know about you, but I’ve carved out the first weekend in May as a time for getting “Downs” to business!
Watch this little video about the Derby . . .you’ll enjoy it!
Happy Trails, y’all!