The Kentucky Derby: From Bucket List to Annual Event

Susan and FriendsPost written by Susan Bass, Managing Director

On May 6, in rain soaked Louisville, I attended my 4th Kentucky Derby.  When asked how to describe this most famous day at the races, my first answer is “ the most civilized costume party ever”.

My immediate party consisted of my mom, my sister and myself.

During the planning stages of our first Derby, I too, viewed it as something to check off my bucket list.

The instigator of this event was my mother. I will say with a great deal of certainty that her passion for the sport rivals that of the Penny Tweedys and Bob Bafferts of the world.

As a child, she accompanied her father to Saratoga (yes, perhaps an odd father/daughter bonding event). She has studied and followed all of the legendary Thoroughbreds for as long as I can remember.

Horses have been a part of our lives for many years. Although, our family stopped being horse owners decades ago, our passion for all things equine has never died. Hence, it wasn’t a huge surprise when my mom announced five years ago that she wanted to fulfill a lifelong desire of attending the Kentucky Derby.

My sister and I gladly accepted her generous offer to be her guests at the 2013 Derby. We assumed it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and planned our trip (and attire) under this assumption. A great deal of time and energy went into the overwhelming question of “What should we wear?”.

Nothing prepared me for what we witnessed upon our arrival. Of course, the first and most outlandish piece of attire were the hats. If you can imagine it, someone was wearing that on his or her head; fresh flowers, feathers, fruit, bows, birds…check, check, check and check. The women were all uniquely gorgeous in their dress selections – long, short, flowing, tight…all styles covered. I quickly surmised that all of my wardrobe stressing had been in vain. No one could possibly win the fashion show and no one seemed to be judging anyway.

The most surprising attire, however, didn’t come from the women. In my opinion, it was the guys who provided the most entertainment. I suppose I expected shock and flare from the females, but the male attire is what blew me away. Every possible pattern imaginable was represented on the suits…cigars, bourbon bottles, bbq ribs, American flags, chickens, flamingos… and for the more conservative gents, polka dots, stripes, lightning bolts etc. The guys seemed to truly relish this opportunity to play dress up without a hint of self-consciousness. They were able to enjoy fashion rules that typically seem only to apply to women: anything goes.

Amongst all the outlandish fashion choices was an air of civility and class. Unlike many big venue sporting events, manners and decorum were understood requirements. Instead of pushing or shoving, one would hear “after you”. “Please “and “thank you’s” were ever present at all concession and betting windows. No foul language could be heard in the grandstands when chosen horses didn’t finish in line with bets that were placed. The restrooms were extremely clean with doting attendants. Even the seat vendors conducted themselves more like waiters at a cocktail party.

Derby day consists of fourteen races with the actual Derby being the 12th race of the day, taking place after several hours of drinking and frolicking (yet still the manners and civility were in full swing).

Most spectators made their way to the exits after the namesake race. We stayed until the final race. As we made our way past the famous twin spires and paddock and towards the Churchill Downs exit, we all shared a similar thought….

This event was far too spectacular to be on a bucket list. It was something to be anticipated and looked forward to every May.

** Note: The above Derby perspective was observed from grandstand seats. I can’t comment on the infield experience.**

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