Spring brings longer days, warmer weather… and the thunder of hooves as horse racing begins in North America and Europe.
On this side of the pond, there’s no better way to get your heart racing than to be in the stands for the legendary Kentucky Derby. Held on the first Saturday of May, the epic race gets the serious horse racing season going as the first leg of the American Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby was founded nearly 150 years ago by the grandson of William Clark of ‘Lewis and Clark expedition’ fame. He’d been to England and attended that country’s biggest horse race, Epsom Derby.
On his return to Kentucky, he spearheaded the organization of the Louisville Jockey Club and new track and race facilities that would become known as Churchill Downs.
Today, the Kentucky Derby has a purse worth millions, but what makes it the grand-daddy of all horse races on the continent are its storied history and colorful traditions.
Appropriately, the race is run deep in the heart of America’s horse country.
Lexington is billed as the Horse Capital of the World, and visitors to the state find themselves easily immersed in equestrian culture, from picture-perfect farms where famous breeds graze on Kentucky’s famous bluegrass, to countless race tracks and equine-related activities.
Elegant, leggy thoroughbreds are the state horse and the heroes of the Kentucky Derby.
And the most famous of them all is Secretariat. Possibly the most famous horse in America, immortalized in book and film and equestrian culture, the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history is one of only two to win the race in under two minutes.
Not Just Another ‘Day at the Track’
More than 150,000 race-goers pack the stands at Churchill Downs on race day. Like Royal Ascot in England, the Kentucky Derby is at the peak of the social scene, a place to see and be seen, preferably in an epic, even outrageous hat.
Americans bet around $150 million on the race every year, and in addition to millions of dollars in prize money going to the owners, the winning horse is draped in a blanket of 554 red roses, giving the Kentucky Derby its second nickname: ‘The Run for the Roses’.
‘The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports’ even has an official drink.
Of course, it’s a Mint Julep, a cocktail that conjures up images of gracious Southern hospitality. It may also be the most refreshing way to drink bourbon, which anyone from Kentucky will tell you is more than a local spirit, it’s a way of life in the state.
Here’s the official Churchill Downs & KentuckyDerby.com recipe so you can savor the taste of the Kentucky Derby even if you’re watching it from home. It’s traditionally served in a frosty silver cup, but if you’re short silver cups, a collins or other cocktail glass will do.
- 2 oz. bourbon
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- 3 fresh mint leaves
- Crushed ice
- Express the essential oils in the mint and rub them inside the glass.
- To the same glass, add simple syrup, bourbon and crushed ice. Stir.
- Garnish with more ice and fresh mint before serving ice cold.
Images courtesy kentuckytourism.com
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