Once upon a time, the Kentucky Derby was a one-day event. Those who owned horses, who trained them and who loved them flocked to Churchill for the first Saturday in May, then dispersed. Over the years, as the Derby grew in popularity, it was the Kentucky Oaks, the day before, that began attracting the locals… Even now, so many that call Louisville home will only go to the track on Friday, opting instead for their living room or a friends deck on Derby Day, and leading to a city-wide closing of schools and local businesses.
Soon, though, the tourists and the crowds figured out the draw of the Oaks as well, and the track began to flood on Friday, too… so Thurby became a thing. On Thursday, we locals would decide to take off work, head to the track, and get our fill of racing before the droves took over. Great seats cost a fraction of what they would on Derby day, and the payoffs could be just as spectacular.
Throughout the week, we enjoy Steamboat Races, Mattress Races, parades and parties. It’s almost impossible to accomplish anything work-related (that being said, I have sold a home on Derby day. In a hat), so we resort to partying, instead.
Because it’s just short of impossible to go from Fillies Ball to the steamboat race three days at the track (and three nights worth of red carpet events) without feeling at least a little overwhelmed, I’ve found that there are certain things that keep me going, comfort me, and make this season a little easier.
** Derby essentials **
First and foremost- Bourbon. I’m a purist here. The only julep I like is a mimic of the now-defunct St. Charles Exhange’s Carpetbagger Julep, made with applejack and Rittenhouse Rye. As for my actual, night-time wind down, I prefer a good-sized pour of Old Forrester over an ice ball in a fancy glass. It’s pure, it’s simple, and Old Fo is one bourbon whose flavor really opens up with ice.
Along my same purist front, it’s this week each year that I start making Benedictine spread, the lighter cousin of pimento cheese. I keep it simple- grated sweet onion, grated English cucumber, and just enough cream cheese and sour cream to keep it held together. We keep it in a tupperware container in the fridge and have plain Carr’s water wafers on hand.
** bourbon balls **
I’m a fan, too, during Derby season, of Bourbon Balls. This is where the extravagence happens- Most bourbon balls are a flimsy mass of bourbon mixed with butter and powdered sugar, encased in a hardened chocolate shell. Not mine. I grind shortbread cookies, melt chocolate, stir in Bourbon, chill it, form into balls, and roll them into granulated sugar, making a chocolate-y, sparkly treat.
Seersucker pops up everywhere in this city around April and May… While the man looks wonderful in it, I’ve tried a couple dresses and suits in the light, pucker-y material, and it just doesn’t do well on my body. However, I find that little touches of it throughout the house get me excited for the times to come. My favorite is the green and white seersucker stripe, and the color options on seersucker napkins available from CHOWwithme on etsy are incredible (as are the prices!).
Finally, friends, a huge suggestion for the ladies in the crowd to survive Derby week: flip flops. Hear me out… I hate flip flops, and how beat up they can become as well as how beat up they can make your feet, but after two, three days at the track, walking to and from the car, and to the betting windows in your killer Jimmy Choos, your tootsies are going to need a break. Invest in a pair of relatively good-looking flip flops- I like the ones from The Gap- and keep them in a sandwich bag in your purse. At the end of the day, you’ll thank me for your lack of blisters!
Friends, if you’re headed to the Kentucky Derby this weekend, have fun, stay safe, and enjoy! Bet on the long shot, have the extra dessert, celebrate a couple of hours longer, and Go, Baby, Go!
** 1st photo by Kyle Leuken **