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Throwing a Kentucky Derby Party

Throwing a Kentucky Derby Party

The 145th Kentucky Derby will take place Saturday, May 4, in Louisville, Kentucky. The legendary event, nicknamed “the fastest two minutes in sports,” brings together horses, hats, and history. It’s the first leg of the Triple Crown, a series of spring races for three-year-old Thoroughbreds.

If you can’t make it to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, in person to see the run for the roses, be there in spirit and host a Derby party. The essential ingredients are fashion and food. Here are some tips on both. 


Derby-goers truly dress for the occasion. Women wear spring dresses, men wear suits and bowties, and both embrace the once-common custom of donning a hat.

Ladies, your Derby hat presents the perfect opportunity to embrace your inner Southern belle, so the bigger, the better. Gentlemen, it’s traditional to don a fedora or a straw boater when watching this horse race, trimmed with a ribbon band, or go all out with a snappy bowler or top hat.

We asked Linda Walker, one of our visual designers, to add a touch of MacKenzie-Childs to some Derby hats. She embellished four basic black hats and gave each its own personality, using our wired Courtly Check Ribbon, which pleats and shapes nicely.

Linda added a pair of oversized Pink Courtly Check Peonies and a Queen Bee Pick to an organza woman’s hat. The matching man’s bowler sports Courtly Check Ribbon around the brim. She also created a woman’s fascinator, covering the surface with tiny millinery red roses that surround a miniature horse. The complementary men’s hat is a top hat, decorated with a vintage horse rosette and more Courtly Check ribbon.


Focus on a menu inspired by traditional Southern fare, including glazed ham, pecan pie, pimento cheese dip, and deviled eggs.

And don’t forget the mint julep. Each year, almost 120,000 mint juleps are served over the Kentucky Derby-Kentucky Oaks weekend at Churchill Downs. Here’s a recipe for the classic cocktail.

Mint Julep

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Handful of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Bourbon whisky
  • Silver julep cups (we used our 10-ounce Courtly Check Enamel Tumblers)

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint. Let mint steep 15 minutes, remove sprigs and leaves, then refrigerate overnight.

Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding 1 tablespoon of mint syrup and 2 ounces of bourbon whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

One last thing

Last, but certainly not least, don’t mumble your way through My Old Kentucky Home, the Derby’s signature song and the official song for the state of Kentucky. Written by Stephen Foster in 1852, it’s been played nearly every year since 1936 by the University of Louisville Marching Band as the horses make their way from the paddock to the starting gate.

The words are:

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
’Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all the day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor
All merry, all happy and bright;
By ’n by hard times comes a-knocking at the door
Then my old Kentucky home, good-night!
Weep no more my lady.
Oh! Weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home
For the old Kentucky home, far away.

Now, sing out loud, and raise your mint julep to toast the Kentucky Derby 2019!


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