May 062017

Today is the first Saturday in May, the day, traditionally when the Kentucky Derby is run in Louisville, Kentucky, capping the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. The race is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds at a distance of one and a quarter miles (2 km) at Churchill Downs. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds (57 kilograms) and fillies 121 pounds (55 kilograms). The race is known in the United States by many nicknames including “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” or “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” for its approximate duration, and is also called “The Run for the Roses” for the blanket of roses draped over the winner. It has been run every consecutive year since 1875. This year’s (2017) race will be the 143rd running with a $2 million guaranteed purse.

Derby Day was always a special day in our house when my wife was alive because she was born in Louisville and was extremely proud of her Kentucky heritage. Her family had celebrated Derby Day with a party all the years that she was growing up, and we continued the tradition. I only stopped when she died because it was too sad a reminder. The week before the Derby she would buy racing forms and newspapers with details on the year’s horses and after spending some time poring over them would pick her favorite. Sometimes we had the party at our house, sometimes at a neighbors’ house, but it was always the same: burgoo, cornbread, and mint juleps (recipes below) for everyone with the television on from the morning hours until the race itself.

The food is all traditional, served at the track and in homes all around Kentucky. Other longstanding traditions include the bugle call to post:

. . . the singing of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses are paraded to the starting gate:

. . . not to mention the women’s hats:

. . . and the blanket of roses at the end.

My wife would sit glued to the set through all of this, and always sang “My Old Kentucky Home” with tears pouring down her face. At this point you could either be deathly silent or sing along – otherwise she would kill you. This was the p