Hold onto your hats and fascinators, it’s that time of year again!
The 149th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday, May 6 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. This iconic race traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in May, when the sport’s fastest three-year-old Thoroughbreds will burst from the starting gate and run the mile and a quarter to the finish line. It’s one of the most exciting moments in sport and one that thousands turn up to watch in person (over 147,000 last year!) and millions more view from the comfort of home.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of iconic US racehorse Secretariat’s Triple Crown win, and in honour of this remarkable horse and his achievement, Churchill Downs has opened a new immersive exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum. If you do get a chance to venture south for the Derby, or anytime, be sure to check it out.
Most of us are unlikely to make the trek south to cheer on our favourite horse down the home stretch, so hosting your own Derby viewing party at home is the next best thing. Here are a few tips to having a Kentucky Derby party to remember.
Sure, casual attire is acceptable and comfy, but haven’t we all had enough of yoga pants and denim?
To create a festive environment, take a page from the actual racegoers and establish a dress code: ladies in dresses and hats or fascinators, and gents in suits. The tradition of dressing up for horse racing comes from the English racecourses like Royal Ascot, which famously hosts a Ladies Day in June. As the Derby is a Southern treasure, part of the tradition is putting on your best dress. Fans have been wearing their finest to the horse races for decades and you can scroll through the Kentucky Derby’s fashion history to see who wore what, when, and how.
Prep Your Guests
Create a summary of the top horses, what races they’ve won and what to consider about how they would perform in the Derby race. You can find handy background and tips on the entries here on our sister outlet, Canadian Thoroughbred.
If your guests are hardcore horseracing fans, you can have copies of the Daily Racing Form (downloadable, for a small price) on hand that give info on each horse’s past performances. And if you and your party are the betting kind, consider opening an HPIbet.com account so you can place bets for guests.
Prep Your Décor
The Kentucky Derby is also known as the “Run For The Roses” so why not pick up the theme and order red roses ahead of time and create some gorgeous vases? Rose pattern or red plates and napkins also will pick up the theme nicely and can be purchased from a local party or dollar store. You may find some Derby-themed ideas such as these adorable appetizer picks we found on Amazon.
How to Watch
This year there are 20 horses making the run for the roses. You can get a breakdown of each horse, its breeding and race records on the official Kentucky Derby website. The current favorite is Forte, who has already won over $2 million. NBC airs the Derby and there are various options from regular broadcast to streaming.
Post time is 6:57 pm ET, but coverage of the race begins at noon ET with plenty of interesting bios and celeb sightings. You can watch the horses get saddled up, parade to the starting gate, and watch interviews with racing experts before the race begins to make your picks.
Of course, wagering on the race makes it even more exciting. The top three finishers “win” for first, “place” for second, and “show” for third, but there are lots of other more exotic bets you can make such as exactas, trifectas, superfectas, etc. A handy ‘Betting 101’ guide can be found here.
What to Eat
Think Southern comfort food. According to the Food Network, the chefs at Churchill Downs serve up such Southern classics as cracklins with pimento cheese, or crispy fried chicken. But a local culinary fave is Kentucky Burgoo, which is a local meat stew. The one served at the track is made from turkey, pork, and beef and leans on the spicy side. Then there are Benedictines, finger sandwiches with green-dyed cream cheese and cucumber, and for snacking, bourbon-soaked candied pecans. Check out recipes here.
What to Drink
The mint julep is a must-have cocktail for Derby viewing. The drink is a mix of bourbon, simple syrup, mint leaves, and bitters, best served in a silver julep cup, but a rocks glass will do the trick. Here’s a classic recipe for you to try.
Make sure there are some non-alcoholic choices available for abstainers, DDs, minors, etc. Here’s a virgin mint julep recipe to keep with the theme.
Or to save yourself from playing bartender all day, set up a mint julep station with the ingredients, cups, and instructions ahead of time so guests can make their own!
Have fun, and good luck!