I can’t think of a better way (*) to spend the first Saturday in May than with my parents, brother & sister-in-law, and friend (Josh) placing bets, sipping mint juleps, and singing, “My Old Kentucky Home” at Churchill Downs for the 143rd Kentucky Derby. *It could’ve only been improved with the company of Jim. Next year.
Derby weekend is a big deal, and a “homecoming” of sorts for my family. It’s typically the second time of the year (outside of Christmas) where we all meet up together to spend a weekend and enjoy ourselves and each other’s company. This year was no different, and I was happy to make the trip from Toulouse, as it afforded me the chance to spend an extended amount of time visiting my grandmothers, aunts & uncles, as well as watching my niece (Lana) and nephew (Trey) with my mom while the rest of the family went to the Kentucky Oaks the Friday before the Derby.
If you’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby or visited Kentucky, I highly recommend you look into attending. There is a whole build up of events leading up to the Derby itself including Thunder Over Louisville (the largest fireworks display in North America), a steamboat race, a hot air balloon race, as well as the Kentucky Oaks. Typically when I visit, I also like to tour the Bourbon Trail. If you can swing a full weekend or even a long weekend, I’d recommend seeing some Lexington area distilleries (Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Wild Turkey) one day and some Bardstown distilleries on day two (Maker’s Mark – you can dip your own bottle, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, etc.), then a day at the Oaks or Derby. The distilleries sometimes have big parties, live music, food trucks, etc. I also highly recommend you try an Ale 8 One – the best ginger ale ever made & only sold in Kentucky. If you’re pressed for time, I’d try to hit Woodford & Maker’s Mark. Both are gorgeous.
If you do attend the Derby – you’ll want to wear a big, floppy hat. And be prepared to consume either a Mint Julep (THE drink of the derby & my favorite) or the Lily (THE drink of the Kentucky Oaks). Below you can see some of the wildest hats we found.
I’ve been lucky to attend eight derbies while my brother has probably been to closer to 15 and who knows how many my parents have attended. Of all my trips, I’ve only dealt with rain on two occasions. I was afraid 2017 was going to mark my third. The Kentucky Oaks had been the wettest (and possibly coldest) since 1940. It looked miserable. Forecasts predicted morning rain and low 60s temperatures for Saturday, but we were surprised and lucky to have been met with sunny skies and pleasant weather. You can see how sloppy/wet the track was this year in the photo below.
When we weren’t betting, we spent our time sipping mint juleps and lilies and collecting our commemorative glasses.
At the end of the day, a somewhat long-shot horse won the Derby – Always Dreaming. I didn’t win any money, but Josh and Michelle did. We figured if we’d pooled all our bets together for a superfecta (Josh’s pick, Michelle’s pick, Michael/Dad’s pick, and Jim’s pick) we would’ve been huge winners. Alas, this is all we came home with.
All in all, it was a lovely day. Better than I could’ve expected. I’m already looking forward to going again next year!