Saturday, May 1, 2010

Your Horse or Mine?

It's not a national holiday but those living in the state of Kentucky may argue that it should be.  Today is the first Saturday in May - the day when women traditionally don outrageously huge hats, sip Mint Juleps and make discreet wagers. When men discuss bloodlines, training techniques and race records.  Today, for the 136th time, the eyes of the horse-loving world will turn to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky and the running of the first jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown:  the Kentucky Derby.

I've never lived in Kentucky, nor have I owned a horse, but I love watching the Derby.  I love its traditions, from the stirring singing of the Stephen Foster classic, My Old Kentucky Home when the horses enter the track (I cry every single time) to the garland of roses placed across the winning horse's back.  The roses made their Derby debut in 1896, when an arrangement of white and pink roses was presented to the winner.  Today, the red rose is the official flower of the Derby and the garland consists of more than 400 red roses.

Photo: Churchill Downs

Then there's that trophy.  Made of solid 14-karat gold, with an 18-karat gold horse and rider atop and set upon a jade base, the trophy has been awarded annually since 1924 to the owner of the winning horse.  While the horse and rider are cast from molds, the rest of the trophy is handcrafted during a process that takes hundreds of hours. 

The Mint Julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby for almost 100 years and, let me tell you, there's a whole lot of sippin' going on during Derby Week!  There are an estimated 120,000 Mint Juleps served at Churchill Downs alone over Derby Weekend.  Of course, you don't have to go all the way to Kentucky to try one.  Here's a recipe from Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, the provider of the "Official" Mint Julep of the Derby.

The Early Times Mint Julep Recipe

* 2 cups sugar
* 2 cups water
* Sprigs of fresh mint
* Crushed ice
* Early Times Kentucky Whisky
* 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, then 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 Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Lady Diane Hats

But while the hats, the music, and the lovely refreshments are important parts of Derby tradition, it's the horses that hold center stage.  Beautiful, disciplined, finely-tuned three-year-old athletes at the top of their game, they command the attention of every person there from their first step onto the track .


The race they will run is 1-1/4 miles and you better not blink or you'll miss it.  The record for the fastest Derby time has stood since 1973 when the legendary Triple Crown winner, Secretariat ran it in 1 minute 59-2/5 seconds.  He was an amazing horse!  The Triple Crown, for you non-horse people, is awarded to a horse who wins the three premier horse races in the United States - The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes - in the same year.  It's only been done eleven times since 1919 and hasn't been accomplished since Affirmed won it in 1978.

Twenty horses will take to the track today to race for the first jewel in the Triple Crown.  Will you be watching?  Have you picked a favorite?  I have a friend who knows all the stats on each horse and jockey and uses a scientific method (that leaves me totally confused) to select his favorites.  Another friend chooses her favorites based on the horse's name.  Still another picks her favorite based on the color of the jockey's silks.  Me?  I use a combination of the three.  It's worked...once or twice...but I have fun doing it and that's really all that matters to me.   Here are my favorite and long shot picks for this year's Derby.

AP - Lookin At Lucky

Lookin At Lucky:  I like his name and his trainer, Bob Baffert and his odds are great at 3-1. 

Photo Credit: Adam Coglianese

Paddy O'Prado:  How can I not love a horse with an Irish name and owned by Donegal Racing?  He's a long shot at 20-1 but he's been running really fast and I like his jockey, Kent Desormeaux.  I wouldn't count him out.

Okay, now it's your turn.  Will you be watching today's Derby?  Have you ever attended the Derby in person or been to a Derby party?  Tried your hand at sipping (or making) a Mint Julep?   Who's your favorite to win today's race? If you live outside the U.S., tell us about the premier horse races in your country!

One lucky commenter, randomly selected, will receive a signed set of Elizabeth Bevarly's Derby Trilogy, stories set in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky - site of the Kentucky Derby.  The books in the trilogy are Fast & Loose, Neck & Neck and Ready & Willing.  Good luck!



  1. Hi PJ,
    I will definitely watch the Kentucky Derby. I hope I get to see it live someday. It's always fun to see all crazy looking hats the ladies wear. I'm putting my money on the filly Devil May Care. It'll be fun to see her beat all the boys.

  2. The DH and I went to the Derby in 1991 as the guests of the Louisville paper. I was the ad manager for my company and the paper's ad rep invited me. When I told her our new baby had tapped us out of money, and I couldn't afford to come. She and her DH opened up their home to us for the weekend. The newspaper paid for all our meals.

    It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. The first thing I can say was that it hot and muggy. So much so that it's first memory that comes to mind.

    The second is sitting in the stands. I'd dreamed going to the Derby my whole life, and I thought that was really neat, although I found myself wishing we were in one of the air-conditioned boxes for the RICH people. LOL

    It's really neat to hear the announcer calling the race, because you'll have a hard time telling which horse is which when they're on the opposite side of the infield. It's not until they come out of the backstretch you can see much, and then they're going so fast that it's hard to keep up with them, hence the announcer. He uses binoculars (or did). LOL

    Then there was the breakfast brunch we went to that the newspaper sponsored and my first mint julep. All the Louisville reigning society members were.

    Another memory is going to Kroger the night before and seeing the swag of roses they put over the withers of the winning horse.

    I couldn't tell you the name of the horse that won, nor the horse that we bet our life savings on ($2), except for the fact the damn horse came in next to last.

    My husband wants to go again, I refuse unless were in one of those AC boxes.

    Oh, and I saw Secretariat win the TC as a kid. There, I'm dating myself, but MY GOD, what an animal. I can still see images of him in the Belmont as he broke away and was in the home stretch all by himself with that 31+ lengths in front of the field. Magnificent animal.


  3. Hi Jane! Wouldn't it be fun to be there in person someday? Although, not today. It looks like they may get drenched.

    Good luck with Devil May Care. I do enjoy it when a filly leaves them in her dust. :)

  4. Monica, what wonderful memories! I honestly wouldn't mind the heat and humidity for the chance to be there just once. Of course, like you, anything past the first time would have to be in AC. lol!

    I'll date myself right along with you. I remember watching the Belmont on TV and crying (What can I say? I'm a watering pot!) with each length he gained on the field. As you said, a magnificent animal!

  5. I've never been to the Derby in person, but I would love to someday. *Note to self--add this to my bucket list.* :-)

    My parents used to host a Derby party with a group of friends for many years. It was great fun!

    I'm not sure if I'll be home in time to watch the Derby today--shopping in Charlotte with my sister and daughter--but I usually watch every year. I love horses--yes, I was a horse-mad girl--and I think they are beautiful to watch. I cry, too, PJ. ;-)

  6. Today is a holiday at my house. My daughter is a horse fanatic and loves the Derby. We haven't been to the Derby, yet. We have toured the race and the Derby Museum. The energy there is great.
    We have attended races at Keeneland. They are so exciting.
    We are cheering for Sydney's Candy. She didn't get a good post.
    Love Joe Talamo.
    We would love the read the Derby trilogy.

  7. Have fun today, Gannon! Are you going to South Park or hitting Concord Mills? Lots of good shopping in Charlotte!

    A woman I worked with in Florida is from Kentucky and hosts a Derby party every year. Great fun!

  8. Runner10, I'd love to take those tours someday. Bet they're fascinating!

    Sydney's Candy may not have gotten a good post but the buzz on the horse the past couple days has been very good. Good luck!

  9. There's no Derby here and I've never been to a horse race. But I do love horses! Watching them run on a ordinary piece of land enjoing the speed or wind through their manes. So powerful & beautiful one word: Fantastic!

    Haven't had a Mint Julep either but now that I've got the recipe I should try it sometime. Perfect for a sunny day like today.

  10. Hi, PJ. Love your post title and your interesting post!

    I haven't been to the Derby, but have seen Churchill Downs when my mom and I went on a trip to Louisville. There were a couple of trainers there that day, putting the horses through their paces and it was fun to watch. We received a mint julep glass, minus the mint julep, for dinner that night. :)

  11. I have never watched the Derby, but I have always loved horses and dreamed about wearing one of those beautiful hats!
    This was a great post PJ! Think I will have to tune in for the race today. Who cares who wins--you only get to see poetry in motion once in awhile.

  12. Watching them run on a ordinary piece of land enjoing the speed or wind through their manes. So powerful & beautiful one word: Fantastic!

    Oh, I agree, Kirsten! We have some farms around here with horses and I love to watch them running across the fields.

  13. Thanks, Deb! How cool that you got to watch the trainers working the horses. I've driven through Louisville on many occasions but have never been inside Churchill Downs. Maybe some day. :)

  14. Thank you, Cyndi! I hope you enjoy the race. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the rain doesn't interfere. There's so much pageantry and tradition that leads into the race itself. I always keep my fingers crossed for a clear, sunny day.

  15. Never been to the Derby, or any other horse race for that matter, and probably never will go. I have watched it on TV, but probably won't do so this year. Like all sports, I'm not a huge fan. Of course, if one was offerred, I wouldn't refuse the Mint Julep! LOL

    I did see Secretariat win the Derby, didn't watch the Preakness but watched the Belmont to see him win the TC. He is one magnificent horse.

  16. Hi,
    I won't be watching the Kentucky Derby today. I grew up in a town that had a race track and after you seen a couple of horse races you feel like you've seen them all. Plus having grew up in that town i've seen what the horse go threw and i feel sorry for them. Many horses once they're done their racing days are killed. The horses can also become irrecoverably injured in the races. So... Course that doesn't stop me about reading races in books or watching them in movies. Mostly because you know no horse were hurt in the making or writing of the book. lol The horse racing scene from "My Fair Lady" will always be one of my favorites. ^^


  17. I've already got and read these books and I LOVE them! The winner will be one very lucky filly indeed ;)

  18. Holy Cow! The trophy is solid gold?
    Wow! I didn’t know that.
    I’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby, but I would Love to go. I’ve watched the race on TV for as long as I can remember. When my Grandparents were alive they would host a big Derby Party. I don’t attend any Derby parties now. Maybe I should resurrect my grandparents’ Derby Party tradition? I love horse racing … especially exciting when a long shot wins!
    My favorite horse is Lookin At Lucky.
    The Mint Julep sounds wonderful btw.

  19. Thanks for stopping by, Karen! Yes, it would be difficult to say "no" to a Mint Julep, I'm thinking. :)

  20. Hi Melissa. It's a shame that the horses in your town were mistreated in that way. That always makes me so sad.

  21. Hi Teresa! Thanks for popping in! I love Liz's Derby books too. It's a great prize for one lucky person today!

  22. Hi, Julie! Yep, solid gold. I didn't know either until I started researching. Apparently, it's the only solid gold trophy awarded in major sporting events in the U.S.

    I think you should resurrect your grandparents' Derby Party tradition...and invite me! :)

  23. I haven't been to the Derby yet, but my husband--a native of Louisville--has. We've enjoyed going to Churchill Downs and other horse tracks, too. For now, I'm making my simple syrup for today's juleps. My picks are Super Saver, Paddy O'Prado and Awesome Act.

  24. Enjoy those juleps, LSUReader!

    It's going to be interesting to see what effect the rain has on the race. Did you know that the Derby has never been cancelled because of weather?

    I like the look of Super Saver too.

  25. Great blog, PJ! I've watched the Derby before and have my TV on right now waiting for it. My daughter told me she wants to watch "that horse race", LOL! We're rooting for Devil May Care! :)

  26. Wow! What a terrific race! Great horse! Great jockey! Congrats to Calvin Borel and Super Saver!

  27. Calvin did it again. He's amazing. I'm glad for Todd. Finally!!

  28. There is nothing like it on earth.. The sport of kings and commeners... We are a big horse racing family.. My father gave us all the bug... And me being Irish and coming from Dongegal to boot, had to have Paddy O'Prado and Dublin in the mix today along with Super Savor.. I will be waiting for then next two races and the start of our own Triple Crown in Canada starting with the Queens Plate in June... It will be the 151st running of this race.... I LOVE HORSE RACING...