If you want to throw a great party, I’ve got two words for you: Kentucky Derby!
Let’s say you (like me) know next to nothing about horse racing. Once upon a time, my husband turned to me and said “everyone hosts Christmas parties and New Year’s parties. Let’s make our thing the Derby.” Umm, okay? What does that even mean?
I grew up in Indiana, where the main sports parties of the year revolved around the Super Bowl or the Indianapolis 500, an hours-long race you couldn’t even watch on TV back in the day, so everyone cranked up the radio and grilled out.
To be honest, it was pretty boring so I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of hosting a sports-themed soiree. But here’s why the Derby is the way to go.
The race is FAST.
The post-time (race start) is around 4:20 in Colorado and it’s over in roughly two minutes, or roughly the attention span of your average kid. So you watch and cheer and then quickly go back to your plate of food and hanging out.
The food is different.
Derby pies and mint juleps are classic and easy to make. The rest is up to you.
You have options for your attire.
Depending on your life stage, dressing up can be fun… or a chore. Fortunately the Kentucky Derby provides two very different options! In our pre-kid parties, we all but required “reserved seating attire,” which meant fancy hats and cocktail dresses and a suspiciously high number of bow ties. Now with kids we encourage people to go “infield,” which allows for your favorite shorts and t-shirt. My husband’s boss once showed up in cut-off jeans and a Nascar tank top, and it was awesome.
The date is selected for you.
The Derby is always on the first Saturday in May. This year, the Derby falls on May 4th. Last year, it was May 5, which is what I like to call a Cinco de Derby! This means in addition to mint juleps, we get more beer than usual. And someone will show up in a sombrero. Why not?
In short, the Derby means fun, and your first Derby party can be as quick to throw together as you allow. If you’re ready to Derby for the first time, these are the required elements:
A mint julep is a pretty easy drink, with bourbon, mint, ice, and simple syrup. (This recipe has some great instructions with it.) Pro tip: splurge on the ice as much as the bourbon! We get bags of ice from Sonic to scoop, and it makes such a difference (and much less mess than crushing ice as you make drinks). Get a reasonable bourbon for mixing — no need to go top shelf, but we’ve found you get what you pay for. As for the simple syrup (made with equal parts water and sugar) this is where you can play to make the drink your own. If you’re a purist, stick to the basics. But you can also mix in fruit for more playful flavors. My husband steeps muddled (crushed) mint in ours to make it extra fresh.
For kids, you can make some mint lemonade and serve in silver colored party cups with a sprig of mint. Fun!
This glorious dessert is essentially a pecan pie with chocolate and bourbon. Some recipes use walnuts instead of pecans, which may be due to the copyright issues surrounding the originators of the derby pie. I prefer pecans, but you can use whichever you like. Serve with ice cream and you are done. Pro tips: You can make it the night before. It’s also easy to make gluten free if you snag some gluten-free crusts. We’ve been getting ours at Whole Foods.
Assign Your Horses
Have everyone bring one dollar and put it in a cup. Print off the roster and slice it up to let everyone draw a horse. Now, no one needs to research and they all have someone to root for. Pro tip: find a roster that includes the horses’ numbers and silk color [think the rider’s jersey] so you can find them in the pack. The winner gets the pot of money. If you will have more partiers than racers, print two rosters, and if two people draw the same horse, they split the winnings.
How To Keep The Rest Simple And Fun
We provide the dessert and the main dish (usually something like pulled pork or Italian beef sandwiches that are easy to prep in a crock pot) and ask friends to bring side dishes.
The Derby is called the “run for the roses,” so it’s pretty easy to grab some flowers at the store, throw them in a vase, and call it done. Pro tip: since the Derby is the week before Mother’s Day, roses can get pricey. Peonies and ranunculus can look rose-like and are often cheaper. I’ve had great luck at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
After the race, you can keep kids and/or guests entertained with traditional yard games, or look up horse-themed coloring sheets if the weather isn’t cooperating.
We’ve been hosting Derby parties of all shapes and sizes for years. As very few people on this side of the Mississippi have ever attended a race, you can make this party your own, which is half the fun!
Enjoy your first Derby!