Throw Your Kentucky Derby Party As If You Were There

By Jennifer Hassan in Kentucky Derby
| September 4, 2020 7:22 am PDT

The Kentucky Derby always generates high levels of excitement among owners, trainers, jockeys and spectators.

The race is short—a mile and a quarter long–but the anticipation is huge, and attendees to the Derby look forward to the event all year. Outfits are planned, food is discussed, and the need to “make a splash” is all-important.

You can create all of the excitement and glamor for which the race is famous at home, with your own race-day event. Here is how.

Dress Code Is a Must

Kentucky Derby Dress Code

Before the food, before the drinks, before the horses are even considered, decide upon a dress code.

Elegance on this day is de rigueur. Hats for ladies and sport coats for men is the right place to start. If the party will be hosted in an event space, rather than in a private home, you may want to mimic the luxury of the race exactly and request that the men wear morning coats and top hats.

Because there will be no in-person spectators at the race this year, you and your guests will be the ultimate arbiters of race day fashion. “Go all out” is usually the approach on Derby Day.

Raffles and Wagers

Wagers are a must on Derby day. If you have a laptop or PC available your guests can bet on the Kentucky Derby online at a range of betting sites that lay odds on the big day.

Keep in mind that wagers have evolved in recent years. Now, betting on the winner of the race is just one option for testing your horse racing knowledge.

There are also exacta and superfecta bets that allow you to wager on the first two horses to come in, and the first four horses to cross the finish line, respectively.

The more horses that you bet on to finish will increase a payout dramatically, since the correct guess will be so much more difficult to gauge. But big winners have been made from one-dollar bets on these multi-horse wagers.

There are also side bets, called “prop bets” that concern everything from number of words in the winning horse’s name to the number of the winner’s starting gate. A prop bet based on the name of the horse will provide great entertainment as the contenders near the finish line.

Some of these bets test your luck more than your skill, but all wagers add to the excitement of the day.

You can create your own raffle to increase the fun of the race, in addition to any formal bets you may place. Write the initials of a horse on the back of each raffle ticket (or slip of paper) and allow each guest to choose one from a hat or paper bag upon arrival.

The raffle ticket holder with the winner can go home with a bottle of wine or another memento. You can even give a quirky gift to the holder of the “dead last” horse.

Specialty Cocktails

The televised hoopla usually begins several hours earlier than the race itself starts. Hence, cocktail hour!

Let’s face it: the actual Kentucky Derby is exciting, but the main focus of the day is to see and be seen, to mingle and drink.

Therefore, bottles of beer are not going to cut it. A woman who has splurged on a feathered and fancy hat will look her best holding a chilled Cosmopolitan or Lemon Drop, rather than a Bud Light.

Kentucky Derby Cocktails

Bloody Marys, a few specialty martinis, and some lightly chilled white wine are your best options for Derby Day drinks. Remember to provide garnish, which will add festive flair to the cocktails.

Lime wedges nicely accessorize the pink color of a Cosmopolitan, while maraschino cherries add whimsey to lemon drops. And a celery stalk works for a Bloody Mary, but so does a crisp slice of bacon if you have time to broil a batch.

As to wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are all more than suitable for race day sipping.

If you want to try your hand at some more exotic cocktail recipes, perhaps with a gin or whiskey base, your guests will be more than pleased to give you their feedback!

Standing Room Only

The race is short, around two minutes in length. Although your guests may want to sit for the pre- and post-race festivities, you will want them standing during the race.

Clear a space around your television so that all guests can stand and watch in excitement as the horses round the final bend, your guests who have placed wagers on the winner and prop bets on the event can loudly support their favorites.

The excitement will be palpable; it’s called “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” But hosting this event, you will create memories that will last a very long time. There should be no holds barred on the hooting and hollering as the top contenders approach the finish.

One Final Word

Beyond all the glamor and excitement, remember that this is a day for fun and laughter. Modify the recommendations as needed to cater to your unique blend of guests.

Perhaps some partygoers will need a seat during the race, while others will appreciate a selection of non-alcoholic beverages. You are the host, and you are the ultimate arbiter of which elements will create the best party.

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