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Racing toward Derby Day with a Party in Mind

2013 Kentucky Derby - Previewby Holley Dey    ©2013 OnTapBlog all rights reserved

One of my favorite childhood memories is a day spent at Churchill Downs with my father and best friend when we took turns picking the horses and Dad plunked down two dollar bets on our favorites.  We watched every horse take the field, made last minute selections based on gait and spunk, then cheered until we were happily hoarse (but not horse).

I am long gone from Kentucky, but still have warm memories of the Bluegrass State.  We lived just outside Louisville, the same city that Rick Pitino now calls home and where basketball reigns supreme every day except Derby day.  More on Rick in a moment, but first, let’s pause a moment to review proper pronunciation.

The most important thing to understand is that the word does not have three syllables.  Oh no, definitely not.  Your goal should be two, at most two and a half syllables.  Louisville is never pronounced “Loo-e-ville”.  Shudder.  Now, relax your lips and tongue, allow the vowels to blend together smoothly and say “Looavull”.  Try it again.  Say it like you mean it.  Well, keep practicing.

We never joined the large crowds at the racetrack, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t celebrate the Kentucky Derby – not at all!  There are two weeks of festivities leading up to the event with widespread parties on race day.  If  Saturday, May 4 will mark your first Derby get-together, allow me to share some party essentials:

1.  Gotta see it to believe it

It’s been called the most thrilling two minutes in all of sports.  Your guests must be able to see the race.  Make sure that viewing screens/televisions are positioned so that every guest can enjoy the action.  Reminder:  Post time for this year’s Kentucky Derby is approximately 6:24 pm ET.

2.  Know the players

Be prepared to discuss this year’s Derby with your guests. Descriptions of the horses and their racing history is available at the official site; up-to-date information leading into the race is also available here.

The 2013 Derby won’t field a clear-cut favorite; there are a number of interesting contenders.  The horse shown above is Goldencents, photographed during a morning workout at Churchill Downs this week.  Goldencents recently won the Santa Anita Derby with jockey Kevin Krigger on board.  Krigger is the first black jockey to win at Santa Anita; he would be the first to win in Kentucky since 1902.  Rick Pitino owns a 5% share of the horse.  He could potentially win the the Derby, the NCAA tournament, enter the Basketball Hall of Fame, and get his first tattoo, all in the same year!  He’s only missing the Derby win.  Most analysts have Goldencents in the top five horses racing on Saturday.

3.  You can bet on it

The party is more fun if everyone has a stake in the action. Wagering on the horses can, but needn’t involve money.  Have guests randomly draw a horse’s name and starting position from a hat; if their horse finishes in the money, award a prize.

One of the most fun and successful Derby parties I’ve ever attended was also a wedding shower.  Rather than bring gifts to the party, the guests bet on the race.  A fixed percentage of each bet was set aside, those funds pooled and given to the soon-to-be-married couple as a shower gift.  The remainder was split between guests who had picked the winning horse.  Alternatively, the same method could be used to raise money for charity.

4.  You can leave your hat onmiranda lambert kentucky derby hat

It’s tradition!  Ask your guests to wear a hat to the party.  The ladies might choose a wide brimmed beauty, or one of the fascinators made popular by the Duchess of Cambridge over the past few years.  Country music superstar Miranda Lambert has tried both looks, opting for a small black fascinator in 2012.

Ladies!  If you’d like to virtually try on a selection of Kentucky Derby hats to find the style that best suits you, Lady Diane Hats of Louisville invites you to find your perfect match here.

Note that in recent years gentlemen have also been sporting hats at the Derby.  While the options available for purchase are more limited, home embellished and creative Derby wear is always in style!

5.  Raise a toast to the winner!

The traditional libation on Derby day is the mint julep.  Party expert and Food Network star Martie Duncan recommends preparing a mint infused simple syrup in advance.  The syrup can be used to flavor the Kentucky bourbon cocktail and/or iced tea on race day!  Martie’s mint julep and simple syrup recipes are here.

The official Kentucky Derby store sells glassware for the 139th running of the race.  If you’d like to splurge on a special gift, Martie suggests the elegant pewter or silver mint julep cups offered by the Salisbury company.

6.  Your just dessert

A variety of delicious appetizers and main course dishes are appropriate on Derby Day.  For an overview of traditional fare, several recipes from Southern Living including the open faced Kentucky Hot Browns sandwich and Derby pie are here.

For dessert, Derby pie – that delectable blend of nuts and chocolate in a flaky pie crust – is a must.  Serve it warm so that the chocolate melts, coating the pecans or walnuts, as well as the inside of your mouth!  Add whipped cream with or without bourbon for a flavorful touch.  Alternatively, a dollop of vanilla ice cream will top it off!  If you’re pressed for time, consider ordering your pies from Kern’s kitchen.  Kern’s original  and secret Derby pie recipe was developed more than fifty years ago.  On Derby day more than 25,000 slices of the pie will be served at Churchill Downs!

Most of all, have fun!  Enjoy the race, the day and the company of family and friends.  Cheers!!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I just love these ideas. Wish I could go to a Derby in my lifetime. I went to the Preakness once but did not party like this on the infield! Love the photos in this blog. Thanks again. I’ll be watching on Derby day.

    May 1, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thanks, Louise! Hope you have a wonderful Derby Day and weekend.

      May 2, 2013

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