The Kentucky Derby Part 4 - The Hooch...And Other Traditions

The Official Mint Julep

The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. Each year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs. That requires 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.


2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Kentucky Whisky

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 Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Garland of Roses

The original type of rose garland first appeared in 1896 when the winner, Ben Brush, received a floral arrangement of white and pink roses.

In 1904 the red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. The garland as it exists today was first introduced in 1932 for the 58th running won by Burgoo King.

Each year, a garland of 554 red roses is sewn into a green satin backing with the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky on one end and the twin spires and number of the running on the other. Each garland is also adorned with a "Crown" of roses, green fern and ribbon. The "Crown", a single rose pointing upward in the center of the garland, symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to reach the winners' circle.

The Kroger Company has been the official florist of the Kentucky Derby since 1987. After taking over the duties from the Kingsley Walker florist, Kroger began constructing the prestigious garland in one of its local stores for the public to view on Derby Eve.

My Old Kentucky Home
By Stephen Foster

Although there is no firm date showing when the Stephen Foster ballad started as a Derby Day tradition it is believed to have begun in 1921. The Courier-Journal in their May 8, 1921 edition reported, "To the strains of "My Old Kentucky Home" Kentuckians gave vent their delight. For Kentucky triumphed in the Derby." The story refers to the victory of Behave Yourself, a horse born and bred in Kentucky.

A report by a Philadelphia newspaper provides evidence that 1930 may have been the first year the song was played as the horses were led onto the track, “As the horses began to leave the paddock and the song 'My Old Kentucky Home' was coming from the radio, the cheering started."

Since 1936, with only a few exceptions, the song has been performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band.

The song describes a scene of life on a slave plantation and the original lyrics were altered by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1986 so as not to “convey connotations of racial discrimination that are not acceptable”. The word “darkies” from the original below was changed to “people” in the altered version. This is just the first verse and chorus, the part that is sung during the post parade for the Derby.

Original Lyrics

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Tis summer, the darkies are gay;

The corn-top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom

While the birds make music all the day.

The young folks roll on the little cabin floor
All merry, all happy and bright;

By'n by hard times comes a knocking at the door
Then my old Kentucky home, Good-night!

Weep no more my lady

Oh! weep no more today!

We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home
For the old Kentucky home, far away.

There are so many more traditions associated with the Derby that I just didn't have time to get to, but I hope you've enjoyed reading about the ones I covered. And if you're serious about following all the Derby coverage, there's an app for that:

Click HERE to download

Please don't forget about The Kentucky Derby Contest Of Awesome. Entries must be received by midnight on Saturday, April 30th, and I'll contact the winner on May 1st with all kinds of helpful tidbits on picking their Derby horse.

The Kentucky Derby Part 3 - The Hats

Hats have played an important role in the history of horse racing for centuries, dating as far back as the world famous Royal Ascot in the United Kingdom, where it is decreed that “all guests within the Royal Enclosure adhere to a strict dress code: male attendees must wear full morning dress including a top hat, whilst ladies must not show bare midriffs or shoulders and must wear hats”.

It didn't take long for a somewhat less stringent dress code to catch on at the major racetracks in the United States, including Churchill Downs. And on Derby day, hats of all shapes and sizes can be seen both in the infield and on Millionaire's Row. Here are just a few from the silly to the sublime...


See anything you like?

Thursday we'll be talking about alcohol and chocolate when my Kentucky Derby posts conclude. And don't forget to enter The Kentucky Derby Contest Of Awesome HERE. There are only five days left!

The Kentucky Derby Contest Of Awesome!

I hope you've enjoyed my Kentucky Derby series so far. At this halfway point, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce...

I have such magical memories surrounding The Kentucky Derby that I wanted to pass some of the awesome on to you. I wish I could fly all of you here to experience the excitement and traditions first hand, but since I can't, I still wanted you to be able to experience the thrill of the race. So, I'm offering up the following:

A 137th Kentucky Derby Festival Collectors Pin

An official 137th Kentucky Derby Program

A $20.00 win bet on the Derby horse of your choosing 
 so you can cheer on your horse during the big race.

You're probably wondering how much a $20.00 win bet on the Kentucky Derby might pay. Well, the lowest payout of any Derby winner for a $20.00 bet was $28.00 and that happened twice back in the 1940s. The highest? Donerail paid $1829.00 on a $20.00 win bet in 1913, sent off at odds of 91.45-1, which is still the highest paying winner ever in the Kentucky Derby. Odds are this years winner will fall between the two. So what are you waiting for?

I usually open up all my giveaways to my international followers, but unfortunately, this one is for US only.  The only requirements are that you are 21 years of age or older and a follower of my blog. There are some ways you can get extra entries, like tweeting, a blog mention, or being a friend on Goodreads. You have one week. The contest closes on April 30th and I'll announce the winner on May 1st. Just fill out the form below to enter.


The Kentucky Derby Part 2 - The Horses

The current Kentucky Derby field consists of twenty horses, all three years of age. They get in based on their graded stakes race earnings. The top contender this year, Uncle Mo, has already earned his owners 1.3 million.

Fillies are welcome to run, thirty-nine have started, although the ladies have only beat the boys three times in Derby history: Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors (1988).

Secretariat and his jockey Ron Turcotte
The Derby has produced several superstars, spawning books and movies about their lives. Probably the most famous of these is Secretariat. He was the first to break the two minute mark in the Derby and still holds the fastest finish time ever, clocked at 1:59.40.  ESPN listed Secretariat 35th on the list of the 100 greatest athletes of the 20th century.

Eleven Derby winners have gone on to win the Triple Crown, a series of three races consisting of the Kentucky Derby (Louisville, Kentucky), The Preakness (Baltimore, Maryland), and The Belmont (Elmont, New York).

Triple Crown Winners:
1919  Sir Barton
1930  Gallant Fox 
1935  Omaha
1937  War Admiral
1941  Whirlaway
1943  Count Fleet
1946  Assault
1948  Citation
1973  Secretariat
1977  Seattle Slew 
1978  Affirmed

Why so few? Well, the races are run close together and they get progressively longer. The Derby is 114  miles,  then in two weeks comes the Preakness at 1316 miles, and the Belmont finishes the trifecta just three weeks later at a distance of 112 miles. 

Next week I'll tell you about the traditions surrounding the Derby including sights, sounds and tastes. We'll make fun of some of those crazy hats too.

I'll be doing a special post featuring my Kentucky Derby Contest Of Awesome on Saturday because I want to give you a whole week to enter. You won't want to miss it.

Kentucky Derby Part 1 - The History

It's been called the most exciting two minutes in sports, the run for the roses and the first jewel of the triple crown. Around here the Kentucky Derby is a pretty big deal. We have parades, steamboat races, hot air balloon festivals and fireworks. Chow wagons, bed races, marathons and galas, all leading up to the big day.

Back in 1875, the year of the first Derby, an estimated 10,000 people watched the race live when the track was still known as the Louisville Jockey Club. The land the track was built on was leased from the owner's uncles, John and Henry Churchill, but was not referred to as Churchill Downs until 1883.

The largest crowd ever to watch a Derby at the track was in 1974, the year after Secretariat won the triple crown, when 163,628 crammed into the infield. After 1974, a large turf track was added inside the dirt track which drastically cut the amount of spectator space.

The famous twin spires seen in this picture weren't constructed until 1894, and despite the marketing campaign to get people interested, the track didn't show a profit until twenty years later.

The first radio broadcast of the Derby aired on May 16, 1925, and 1952 marked the first time the Derby was shown on network television.

This year marks the 137th consecutive running of the Kentucky Derby which makes it the longest running continuously held sporting event in the United States.

In 1943, with World War II going on, the government put pressure on Churchill Downs to cancel because of the wartime restrictions on strategic materials; rubber for tires and gasoline for cars. Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs at the time, vowed to run the Derby even if only ten spectators showed up. Working with Louisville local government, he organized public transit to Churchill Downs and the "street car" Derby was held. (Won by Count Fleet, who went on to win the Triple Crown.)

It's surprising to meet anyone from this part of the country who hasn't watched the Kentucky Derby either live or on TV. Have you seen it? Maybe even had Derby parties in your neck of the woods? I'll have parts two, three and four this week and next, and you'll want to tune in for The Kentucky Derby Contest of Awesome coming up next week. The prizes are really spectacular.

Back To The Future

Wuthering Heights by Emile Bronte, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte are two of my favorite classic books. My current read is The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. This is the first I've read of her novels, and as I normally find with books from this time period, it starts out pretty slow. It's always a bit jarring to get into the rhythm of a classic after reading so many contemporary novels. Sometimes I want to scream "Get to the point already!"

For example:

"If you think you have wronged me by giving me your friendship, and occasionally admitting me to the enjoyment of your company and conversation, when all hopes of closer intimacy were vain - as indeed you always gave me to understand - if you think you have wronged me by this, you are mistaken; for such favours, in themselves alone, are not only delightful to my heart, but purifying, exalting, ennobling to my soul; and I would rather have your friendship than the love of any other woman in the world!"

Romantic? Yes. Swoon-worthy? Maybe. Long-winded? Definitely.

We all know literature reflects the time in which it's written. If a time traveler on a maiden voyage to our planet compared a novel published in the 19th century to a novel on the shelves today would she think we've all dumbed down, or at the very least become lazy? Or would the literature of her time be so different that both would be unrecognizable?

Perhaps, like my clothes from the 80s, the language of literature will come full circle and all books will again be written like the above tidbit. What do you think? Inquiring minds want to know.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water

                 A picture taken last year at Thunder showing the fireworks rainbow
                         coming off of the bridge connecting Indiana and Kentucky.

One of the largest annual fireworks displays in North America, Thunder over Louisville, kicks off the Kentucky Derby festival this weekend and Old Man Winter is not cooperating. The high temperature is predicted to be forty-two degrees. Burrrrrr. I guess the 700,000 people who normally head to the festivities will have to bundle up, myself and the kids included.

I managed to snag the mystery prize pack from the Write Hope auction and will gleefully let you all know what I receive as soon as it arrives. I LOVE surprises!

I want to direct you to a wonderful blog post by Steph Sinkhorn. It's all about common YA cliches and how to avoid them.

Cherie is hosting a flash fiction blogfest on May 6th. You should all sign up. It's going to be a blast.

I'm a bit off my game this week and I apologize in advance for not having a more entertaining entry today.

Until next time...

Brotherly Wisdom...Or My Latest Parent Fail

Well, it's happened. The one thing I hoped would not be passed down from me to the kids has reared its ugly head - the paralyzing fear of public speaking.

My son had escaped, so I thought it might have skipped a generation or better yet been wiped completely out of the gene pool, but it appears I was mistaken.

Today the daughter came home with her own debilitating account of a book report gone horribly wrong. She told me about the insects tromping through her stomach and her shaking hands made all the more noticeable by the paper she was holding like a life raft. Just hearing about her experience made my palms sweat.

That's when I realized I couldn't help her. She sat there looking at me with those big blue eyes, pleading for some kind of magical cosmic wisdom on how to beat this and I had nothing. Nada. A big goose egg. Sure, I could have told her to imagine the audience naked in their underwear, but I knew from experience that was nearly impossible with all of your energy focused on not vomiting.

My outgoing brother who grew up to be a salesman once told me to pretend I was in the shower.

"Wait," I said, "Why am I in the shower?"

"Because the shower is relaxing, stupid."

I'd had my doubts, but I'd tried it. It had made things worse. Now
I was the naked one, standing barefoot as my upchucked breakfast pooled around my feet.

Somehow I managed to make it to graduation by telling myself I would never have to do it again unless I wanted to. So far, that's worked pretty well for me, but my elementary student still has years of torture ahead of her.

Have you overcome your fear of public speaking or found any strategies that at least keep you from passing out? If so, my daughter would love to hear them, because she sure isn't getting any help from yours truly.

Death, Love and Blogging

Just a quick note to let you all know that I'm working hard on my Derby posts and a phenomenal contest to go along with them. I think you'll like it.

Hearts broke across Indiana last night as the Butler Bulldogs fell in the NCAA final to the UConn Huskies, although after watching the game I'm not sure either team really looked like championship material.

I spent the day tidying up my Google Reader. I found over thirty blogs that had died at the end of last year. I always check for hiatus notification posts before deleting them, but was surprised at the number since the last time I cleaned up my feed. It seems very sad to me for some reason and I can only hope they were all whisked away to something bigger and better.

I've enjoyed reading the A to Z Challenge posts that all of my blogging buddies have been writing. If you're still on track, good for you, and if you're not, well, that's okay too. I still love you.

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