Derby Day Tips

The first Saturday in May is a special day in America: Churchill Downs runs the Kentucky Derby.  Gents don’t need to live in Kentucky to celebrate beautiful weather, strong horses, and well-hatted women.  So, here are some tips for you to make the most out of Derby Day

The Attire

Often Derby Day (or Easter Sunday) is the beginning of “seersucker season,” which runs until Labor Day in September.  This would be the first choice – and if you’ve been looking for an excuse to get a seersucker suit, you could not pick a better day to wear it.  If you’re not quite ready to commit to this, you could go with white linen trousers, a white shirt, and a navy blazer.  A final look that would work well for the brightness that is Derby Day would be some pastel trousers, in a light blue or salmon, and a patterned shirt.  Feel free to add a bowtie, a pocket square, and/or a colorful belt.

The Drink

Now while the mint julep is indeed the “official drink of the Kentucky Derby,” it was neither invented in Churchill Downs or even in Kentucky.  There was once an Arab drink called “julab” which was made from rose petals and water.  As Arab invasions of north Africa brought the beverage to the Mediterranean, mint, which was more popular, replaced the rose petals.  While traditional variants of the mint julep were made with gin, the more popular variant (and the one that is served 120,000 times in commemorative glasses at the track on these particular Saturdays) is made with bourbon.

It’s a simple drink to make.  Start with a simple syrup and add 6-8 mint leaves, while gently muddling the leaves.  You want to open up the aroma, not shred them.  Then take a chilled julep cup (you can use a glass if you don’t have one of these pewter or silver beauties) which is filled with crushed ice and add one tablespoon of the syrup for every two ounces of the bourbon of your choice.  Once you’ve added the amount you want, stir rapidly with a spoon so you can frost the outside of the cup.  Finally, garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

The Ponies

It is a horse race, after all, and it wouldn’t be as much fun if you weren’t cheering for a horse, so pick your horse before the race begins.  Whether you just want to put into a friendly pot among friends, or get in whole hog and actually bet virtually at Churchill Downs here are three things for the rookie horse bettor to keep in mind:

  • Favorites have only won the Derby 30% of the time.  This doesn’t mean you have to go for the longest of long shots, but you’re more likely to win picking a non-favorite, if the statistics are any indication.
  • There are three types of wagers: win, place, or show.  Win is obvious, but “place” means top 2, and “show” means top 3.  We’ll leave exacta and trifecta betting for another time.
  • Do your research, but have some fun too.  You can read about the horses ahead of time, and you can even watch them parade and get ready and wait to bet until the last minute.  But don’t take it too seriously!

Derby Day is a great American tradition and however you choose to observe it, we hope you have an excellent time.

Do you have any Derby Day traditions or stories to share with us?  Do so in the comments to receive a coupon for a free shoe shine service, just in time for Derby Day.

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