When you mention the Kentucky Derby, people smile. This storied horse race is deeply ingrained in American sport history and southern culture for a myriad of reasons, but what really makes the “Derby Experience” so grand and unique?
When first arriving at Churchill Downs, you sense history. You feel tradition. Looking up, the iconic Twin Spires gleam brightly over the track as they have for over a hundred years. Looking down, worn cobblestones and bricks in the paddock hold the secrets of winners and losers alike since 1875. Stunning statues and sculptures pay homage to Aristides, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby as well as Super Horse Barbaro and legendary jockey, Pat Day. Ghosts of the past echo in older sections of the track and blend in quietly with newer areas, bright and shiny.
Limited to three year-old male thoroughbreds (colts or geldings), the horses entered in the “Run for the Roses” earn their place in the Kentucky Derby with a recently implemented point system. The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” assigns specific points to winners in various prep and championship races leading up to the Derby. Point leaders are eligible to run in the Derby, thus creating a field of some of the best and most beautiful racehorses in the world. These horses are magnificent creatures and the thrill of seeing a thoroughbred up close is a memory to last a lifetime. The shiny coat, the power in the stride, the relationship between horse, trainer and jockey are something to behold. The rumbling of the horses approaching the turn and then the finish line to the roar of the crowd is magical and overwhelming.
Big hats, demure dresses and bold bowties set the tone for this dressy event. It is said it’s always best to overdress for the Kentucky Derby because you never know what you’ll be invited to or where you will end up. Like royalty for a day, men and women alike plan elaborate outfits down to the shoes or matching accessories. Funky and fun, one should never take themselves too seriously at the Derby, and whimsical socks, ties or purses keep the vibe cool and not too stuffy.
The Celebrities & Parties
Louisville is a party town that embraces Southern hospitality and that’s especially evident Derby Week. Legendary soirees are over-the-top with extravagant themes, decorations and tons of food and libations. A-listers and celebrities from all over the world clamor to get a coveted invite to the stately mansion party of the Barnstable-Brown family or a chance to mingle with horse racing insiders, enjoy specialty drinks and gourmet food at The Taste of Derby. The list of parties is long and illustrious and grows each year.
When you attend the Kentucky Derby, you’re not just attending another major sport event. You are experiencing much more–a chance to experience history, to be a part of the pageantry of a special southern spring ritual and witness the grandeur of the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports”.
By Anastasia Austen