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.


Old Kitty said...

Oooh where may I get some Kentucky Whisky?!?!

Yum! take care

Rogue Mutt said...

No sporting event is complete without the drinking. And when you're waiting hours and hours for a 2-minute horse race what else are you gonna do?

Zan Marie said...

I *love* the Derby! I want the roses. ; )

My Celebration Blogfest kicked off today. Check it out at www.intheshadeofthecherrytree.blogspot.com

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