And They’re Off!
A gentleman’s (and ladies’) guide to doing the Kentucky Derby in New Orleans
Today, we have another guest post from my partner in life and fun and fellow writer, Mark Patrick Spencer. Apart from my dad, who introduced me to horse racing when I was in grade school, Mark is my No. 1 expert when it comes to all things horse racing. As Kentuckians, the Kentucky Derby is what you might call our Mardi Gras. Last year, we threw a party with our new New Orleans friends and as always, the people of the Crescent City jumped in – clad in Derby Day finery – with abandon and zeal. This year, we are passing the torch to you. Here’s Mark’s guide to doing the Kentucky Derby in New Orleans and beyond.
If you ask a lot of people what is the first Saturday in May – they would likely try to give you the date, or say, “umm…Saturday?” Which, in a way, is correct. But when you ask some people the same question, they will smile, and their eyes will light up, for they know the true answer is the Kentucky Derby.
The Run for the Roses, the oldest continuously held sporting event in America, is on May 2, this year. The race is known as the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” and, even though it is the first race of the Triple Crown, is considered the Superbowl of the horse racing season. Each Kentucky Derby creates an instant legend, whose winner will be remembered by the horse racing public and beyond for years to come.
Every year, horse racing enthusiasts who cannot attend the Derby have to answer two very important questions: Should I have a party, or should I go to a party?
Let’s Have A Party
I consider any horse racing-related gathering – no matter how humble – as a beautiful thing. It’s old-timey, much like boxing or a good joust. To be honest, I’ve never been to a joust, but I have been to the Kentucky Derby and plenty of Derby day parties (as a Kentuckian, it’s a right of passage) and you only need a few essentials.
Attire – This is the Kentucky Derby. Let’s keep it classy. Seersucker for the gentlemen, and a nice dress and decorative hat for the ladies creates an elegant and fun atmosphere. Ladies you can’t go “too big” with a Derby hat. The sky literally is the limit. Fellas, if you don’t have seersucker, then light, spring dress attire with a tie is a must.
Decorations – Add a little flair to the occasion! I’ve purchased plenty of horse-themed party supplies over the years. Kids love “horsies,” so check your local party supply store. Also, if ordered early enough (or overnighted at this point) you can grab all kinds of Derby accouterments from the KentuckyDerby.com store. Mark the day with everything from official Derby Day 141 napkins, $6, and balloons, $7, to commemorative glasses, $60 for a 12-pack.
Gamblin’ and a’ drinkin’ – To keep everyone’s thirst sated you must serve the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby – the mint julep. Churchhill Downs will serve 120,000 of these over the weekend, so who are you to be different? Also, while the Derby is closely tied to bourbon, remember to keep some non-alcoholic drinks for your friends that don’t imbibe. Melanie recommends mint-infused lemonade and sweet and unsweetened iced tea for starters.
As long as there have been people watching horses race, there have been people betting on which horse would win. Just because you can’t get to the track doesn’t mean your Derby party can’t bet on the races. All you need is a Derby pool. This gives everyone, even the folks who don’t know which way the horses are going to run out of the gate, a betting interest. Simply throw all the entries in a hat, collect money from whoever wants to play, and BOOM – now everyone has some action.
Let’s Go to a Party
Unfortunately for New Orleanian equine enthusiasts, the Kentucky Derby runs concurrently with Jazz Fest, and you won’t be able to bet at the Fairgrounds on Derby day. So, if you think you have the winner, and need to get a bet in, you’ll have to travel to one of the Off Track Betting locations around the city.
If you’re not throwing a Derby party, and have the need to show off that new seersucker or hat, you can head downtown to Fulton Street for the inaugural Derby on Fulton party – the brainchild of former Louisville, Kentucky resident and current general manager of Apres Lounge, Ellis Delahousay. Fulton Street will be closed off, bedecked in turf and will have a paddock with horses to get everyone in the mood. Gerry V. will emcee the day’s proceedings, which include music by the Pocket Aces Brass Band, and betting pools to stoke your gambling spirit. The winners of the games won’t take home money, but will cash in their tickets to receive some amazing prizes. Some of the prizes include a hat by Fleur de Paris, a custom fitted suit by Fellow and a trip to next year’s Kentucky Derby. The best part, is that 100 percent of the proceeds from the betting pools goes to the Team Gleason Foundation.
So, whether you’re throwing a party at home, or heading downtown – dress to impress, New Orleans. Derby season is upon us.
I’ve heard from some friends that they’re nervous when they go to the windows to make a bet at the track, as if it’s a strange world inhabited only by shadowy men with cigars hanging out of their mouths. So here is the shortest of lessons to improve your big moment at the betting window.
- Go to the window early – For some reason, every bettor wants to go to the betting window when there is less than five minutes left before the next race starts. So just go early, you can bet on any race at anytime.
- Keep it simple – A lot of new folks to the track ask, “How do I bet?” An easy bet is “to win” or “across the board” (your horse comes in first, second, or third). Be careful, betting across the board is considered three bets. So, if you bet, “Race 10, 2 bucks across the board, on the 7 horse,” you are actually betting $6.
- Be clear about your bet – This one is easy. The only info you need to give is – racetrack, the number of the race, how much you want to bet and what number horse you want to bet on. Once you have that winner picked, go to the window (early) and say, “At the Fairgrounds, Race 9, 5 bucks to win, on the 7 horse.” Pay up and don’t forget your ticket.
See how easy that is? Keeping cool goes a long way at the track.
Also, if you wake up Sunday, and still have that itch to experience our four-legged friends in action, head over the causeway to Folsom to watch the Inaugural Southern Hotel Cup at Innisfree Farm (Click here for a write up from The Scout Guide). The gates open at 1 p.m. and the polo match begins at 2:30 p.m.
Mark Patrick Spencer is a writer of poetry, fiction and screenplays living in New Orleans. When not working to perfect his French 75 recipe, he can be found waving from his porch or dancing in his living room. Follow Spencer on Twitter @thesonofnoise.