The Kentucky Derby
This year, mark your social calendar for May 2. This is when the annual Kentucky Derby takes place, one of the most time-honored annual events in the South. Taking place the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, it caps off a two-week long celebration known as the Kentucky Derby Festival. It has been called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”, because the actual race begins and ends in only a matter of minutes. Some also refer to it as the “The Run for the Roses” because the winner is draped with roses. It is also one of the largest parties.
Mint Julep, anyone?
For those under the impression that this is a snooty, high society event that an average college student would not attend, think again. While the wealthy aristocrats sit in the grandstands decked out in their finest clothes, jewelry and oversized hats, the real action occurs in the infield, a separate area where around 80,000 people gather to drink and party before the race. The area around third turn is where the most partying occurs. “Millionaire’s Row” is where the rich enjoy the race from their box seats. For us common folks, tickets for the infield area are usually around $40, and must be purchased at the gate instead of in advance. Luckily, an unlimited number of tickets are sold, eliminating the need to arrive early. Driving in to Churchill Downs can get very congested, so it is best to park at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center and hop on a shuttle.
“The Third Turn” Scene
There are a few places in the infield where the race can be seen, but for the most part, it is a sea of people looking to party and have a good time. Alcohol is abundant in the infield, although coolers and grills are not allowed. The “Third Turn” area is where college-aged Derby attendees gather to drink, eat, and listen to live music. Gate 3 is the only area that allows horseracing fans to bring their own chairs or tents. As one might expect, fancy dresses, suits, and oversized hats are the protocol. The infield is obviously much more casual, as it is where the hardcore partying and often sloppy debauchery occurs. Fortunately, the event takes place in the early summer months, so the weather is not steaming hot. However, the infield can get muddy, and mud plus alcohol can often equal mud wrestling, so beware. A concert is also held each year in the infield, with performers like last year’s Kellie Pickler and Finger Eleven.
And they’re off!
For those able to watch the race, the horses are paraded in front of the grandstands while the University of Louisville marching band plays. This is followed by the famous two minutes of excitement when the bets are closed and the race begins. Of course, the experience is not complete without a traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep, which contains bourbon, mint, and sugary syrup, which run a steep $8. Another tradition at the Derby is burgoo, a beef, chicken, pork and vegetable stew.
By Carrie McCloud