Kentucky Derby is here and it really is the best time to be a Kentuckian! When I was a kid (this is Dawn!), the Kentucky Derby was a big deal for my family but not in the way folks from outside of the Commonwealth may think. Sure, the whole day was focused around the race, but, for us , it was all about family. Think Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving, but with Bourbon Balls and meat off the grill. If the weather was nice, my Daddy would pull the living room TV out onto the back patio. We would spend the day working in the yard (Granny always said you should do no planting until Derby Week) and then after lunch time we would huddle around and watch the local stations until ABC took over at 5. Bourbon balls were always a must and a favorite of mine ever since I could eat solid foods. No wonder I turned out to be such a Bourbon fanatic! We would always get to taste the juleps (gross) or the much preferred Bourbon & 7, which is still my drink of choice to this day. THAT is what Kentucky Derby Day is to the vast bulk of Kentuckians. Time to spend with family and friends, celebrating the Sport of Kings.
Sport of Kings. Yeah sure, I remember when we were kids, Queen Elizabeth visiting the Bluegrass a couple of times to watch a bit of racing at either Keeneland or Churchill Downs. There has also been a Sheikh or two hanging around during the season. In fact, Sheik Hamdan bin Rashad, owner of Shadwell Farms in nearby Lexington, has a horse in this year’s Derby field. Not really a super impressive list of royalty. I far more clearly remember going to visit my Uncle Jim on the horse farm where we worked, chasing the barn cat and fishing in the pond. Completely oblivious to the cost of the animals I thought were cute, but sort of mean. Everyone on that farm were regular, hard-working Kentuckians. Sport of Kings?? I just don’t see how that fits. You can’t “buy” a Kentucky Derby win. One of my favorite horses to ever race was Seattle Slew. You may remember him as the winner of the Triple Crown? Well, he was bought as a yearling for only $17,500. Another of my favorites, Charismatic, actually ran in a claiming race just 3 months before winning the 99’Derby, but no one claimed him. He ended up as one of the longest shots to ever win the Kentucky Derby and was one race short of the Triple Crown. But that’s racing. Hit up Churchill Downs on Derby Week and you will see every walk of life. Every race, religion, ethnicity all with one clear thing in common: They are having a hell of a good time.
I was in my 30’s when I finally went to my first Kentucky Derby. Strange right? Not really. Most Kentuckians will never make it there, be it because of cost or just no desire to “get in all that mess” as I have heard many times. So, as I stood there surrounded by the spectacle that is Churchill on Derby Day, I was surprised at how emotional I felt. My moment didn’t come with the swell of the crowd as My Old Kentucky Home slams into the chorus of “ weep no more my lady…..” which was an indescribable experience live. No, my moment came when they were loading the starting gate. All I could think of were those Saturdays on the back porch, Uncle Jim, the PNW UK Alumni Club who threw the BEST parties when I lived in Seattle, my Tennessee girls in San Diego that would indulge me on Derby Day because they knew how much I missed home, my family that instilled in me such a love and pride for all things Kentucky. I was at the Derby for all of them.
This year, I plan to be at home putting flowers out, grilling some meats and enjoying a perfect Bluegrass day. No matter what your Derby Day plans may look like, you should definitely involve some Kentucky Bourbon. I think I have finally been given a Julep recipe that won’t make me cringe. Check out the winner of this years Kentucky Bourbon Trail Mint Julep contest here:
This winning Peach Julep was submitted by one of Sweet Mash’s favorites, Heather Wibbles, aka Cocktail Contessa.
Now, y’all know where you can come pick up a bottle of Bourbon or 5 for your weekend and everything else you may need to may your Kentucky Derby party EXTRA.
Happy Derby from Tamara and Dawn!