Kentucky Derby Traditions

In order to plan an amazing Kentucky Derby party, it's helpful to know some of the history and traditions that surround the Kentucky Derby. The Churchill Downs racetrack officially opened in 1875, and the first Kentucky Derby was held in the same year. In more than 100 years of the Kentucky Derby, many well-known traditions have been established. Kentucky Derby traditions revolve around the date of the race each year, food and beverage, fashion statements, the trophy and the Garland of Roses.

  • Date: The Kentucky Derby takes place annually in Louisville, Kentucky during the first weekend of May. It is held at the end of the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. Spectators gather around to see, “The Most Exciting Two Minutes of Sports,” in hopes that their favorite horse and jockey will win the race!
  • Food and Beverage: The mint julep is considered the historical beverage of the Kentucky Derby. Drink your mint julep in a sterling silver julep cup or in a souvenir glass. The mint julep consists of mint sprigs, powdered sugar, water, bourbon and crushed ice. Additionally, burgoo is a well-known beef stew that has a thick consistency, and is made up of chicken, beef, pork and vegetables. Burgoo is served as the main dish at many Kentucky Derby parties.
  • Fashion: Create a lavish hat, or buy a classy hat to sport at the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby is not only about sports, but fashion as well. Pastel colored suit, a dress with frills, or other bold colored attire is appropriate attire for women. Men should plan to wear either a light colored or navy sports jacket, and a pair of khaki pants. Choose a bold colored bowtie or tie to stand out from the rest of the gentlemen.
  • Trophy: Each year, the Kentucky Derby gold cup, or gold Kentucky Derby trophy, is awarded to the owner of the horse that wins the race. Both 20 and 14 carat gold are combined to create the trophy. Smaller, sterling silver trophies are also awarded to the winning breeder, trainer and jockey.
  • Garland of Roses: The red rose is the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. The idea was adopted by the president of Churchill Downs racetrack, Col. Lewis Clark. Red roses were traditionally handed out to ladies in attendance at Kentucky Derby parties. Every year, over 400 red roses are sewn into felt or satin material. They are surrounded by green fern and ribbon. The Garland of Roses is draped over the winner. The jockey that wins the Kentucky Derby each year is also awarded a bouquet of 60 roses, which are wrapped in ribbon.
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