Tales from Kentucky – of Derby hats, mint juleps and horse heroes.

imagine-racing-breeding-stables-training-racing-kentucky-derby-south-africaWhat an absolute privilege to have been fortunate enough to be invited to the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks this past weekend.

Arriving in Louisville, from Nashville last Thursday evening, we met up with the rest of our travelling group (now since known as the A team), including some from Ireland and the UK, which proved an eclectic and entertaining mix for the duration. An Irish running commentary on all things, and the general hilarity were enough to keep everyone else wondering exactly when we had started on the mint juleps.
If you’re uninitiated, the mint Julep is the iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby, made by muddling mint, a mint syrup and a hefty dose of Bourbon over crushed ice. It takes a little while to appreciate the unique taste but by the third one, they start to taste pretty moreish!

imagine-racing-kentucky-derby-breeding-training-sales-racing-south-africaTo try your own:
Crush or muddle a few mint leaves in the bottom of an 8-ounce Mint Julep Cup (using the back of a spoon to crush mint leaves) until mixture forms a paste. Then fill the Mint Julep Cup 1/2 full with crushed or shaved ice. Add prepared Mint Syrup, water, and bourbon. Stir until the silver cup is frosted on the outside.

For three day’s in a row, we were treated to the best of Kentucky hospitality starting each morning with a brunch, every day being hosted at a different more gracious and beautiful home than the previous one. The Oaks morning invitation was for Mimosas and Mint Juleps at 10.30 and our hosts had invited an intimate gathering of 750 people all dressed and ready to race in a riot of hats and fascinators in many hues of pink.

This was a harbinger of things to come when we walked into Churchill Downs amidst a thronging mass of excited race-goers. With the local community who live around the track joining in to assist with parking, golf cart shuttles and even entertainment and refreshments, the whole of Louisville appeared to be welcoming visitors to the Derby.

Oaks day was a celebration of fillies and cancer survivors. This was Churchill Down’s eighth annual “Pink Out” in support of two cancer-related charities – Bright Pink and Horses & Hope. The Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade Presented by Kroger celebrated 142 cancer survivors who paraded along the historic homestretch, in front of the grandstand immediately prior to the running of the Longines Kentucky Oaks.

The race was thoroughly exciting with Cathryn Sofia racing four-wide at the turn to finish going away!

A record-breaking 124,589 racing fans were in attendance to see Cathryn Sophia capture the 142nd running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks.
Racing was followed by celebratory cocktails and dinner at the River Valley Club, on the Ohio River, another taste of superb Kentucky hospitality!

Saturday started with another brunch, of only 60 –odd people this time but just as graciously hosted in another garden setting. Having regrouped and donned our Derby day outfits, we wished everyone Happy Derby and set-off for Churchill Downs again. The buzz at the track was already palpable and watching the lead-up races just made the anticipation of the big one more thrilling – even mint juleps can’t take the edge off that excitement. Attendance of 167,227 was the second largest crowd in Derby history, just under the record of 170,513 in 2015

As Lady Antebellum stepped out on the podium to sing the National Anthem, so the incoming storm broke right over the track. True professionals, they just kept on singing despite being soaked in an icy, stinging deluge. It seemed to enhance the emotion of the moment.

The Woodford Reserve race was run and then the Derby contenders paraded from the backstretch to the saddling area and paddock with all of their connections. What a sight to see and what a privilege to be among the crowd to witness the unbeaten Nyquist winning the Kentucky Derby at historic Churchill Downs. Will we see another American Triple Crown winner this year? I’d like to think so and look forward to the son of Uncle Mo keeping racing fans thrilled, and encouraging a new legion of fans to follow and appreciate our international horse heroes.

Horses have that ability to capture a collective imagination and the international nature and global interest in our sport are what makes it extra exciting to be a part of. Whether in the US, China, UK, Europe or South Africa it does not matter, our horses and horse racing bring us all together!

Churchill Downs has hosted the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. www.churchilldowns.com.