The Hollywoodbets Durban July has a number of traditions including the planting of the July Beans, the gallops with coffee and sticky buns etc and it adds to the build up of the great race and the enjoyment on the day.
However, there can be few races around the world that match the Kentucky Derby for tradition.
The most well known of these is the garland of roses which is draped over the winner, which is why the race has become known as “The Run For The Roses”.
In 1883, New York socialite E. Berry Wall presented roses to the women at a party. Inspired by this gesture, Churchill Downs founder and president Meriwether Lewis Clark announced that roses were the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. In 1896, the tradition of draping a blanket of 554 red roses on the Kentucky Derby winner began. The reason there are 554 roses is simply that is the number it takes to create the much-desired garland.
The Kentucky Derby trophy is small but is made of pure gold, a combination of 20- and 14-carat gold..
The post position draw ceremony for both the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks takes place during the week of the big race. This year it took place on the Monday. From 1998 to 2009 Churchill Downs used a two-tiered draw which allowed connections to choose their own post position, although the order of selection was based on a random draw. From 2010 it reverted to a completely random draw with a number and a horse picked out of two different containers by two different officials at the same time.
The Kentucky Derby is associated with the drinking of mint juleps (an iced cocktail consisting of bourbon, mint, and sugar).
There are two traditional Kentucky Derby meals:
A “hot brown” is a famous American hot sandwich created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. A “not brown” is a variation of the sandwich.
“Burgoo” is a thick, spicy stew served with mashed potatoes.
The wearing of ornate hats by female spectators is a tradition on race day.
The ladies also wear stylish dresses and the men traditionally dress smartly, except in the infield.
Raucous partying on the track’s infield has become a tradition.
One observer said, “The infield is the biggest frat party in the world. You’ve got characters in crazy outfits, college kids rolling around in mud, high schoolers trying to pretend they’re not high schoolers and just the kind of folks who sure as heck didn’t come to the Kentucky Derby to be all prim and proper.
The infield is not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle it, it might just be the most fun you can have at the race.”
The opposite experience is “Millionaires Row”, an exclusive interior dining room where each interior table offers scenic views of the racetrack from its three-tiered covered balcony and from the televisions surrounding each dining table. A two-day Derby and Oaks ticket here costs US$2,215 – US$2,750 a seat. From the outside it looks like a compound or a castle but the inside is a banquet room with assigned seating and free food, short gambling lines and a great view just steps away.
Every year as the horses leave the parade ring the crowd join in the singing of, “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Churchill Downs owns 12 sterling silver mint julep cups. After the Kentucky Derby, the winning connections come back to the room and the governor of Kentucky toasts them with these cup.
Sterling silver cups to drink mint juleps dates back to the early 1800s because it is the silver that allows ice to form on the outside of the cup. The proper etiquette for drinking a mint julep is to hold the cup by either the band on the base or top lip so that your hand does not warm the cup.
The public can buy mint julip glasses. Each glass has the name of every winner of the Kentucky Derby on it.
The Kentucky Derby isn’t just about one Saturday in May. People in the area start celebrating about a month ahead of time with festival after festival. But the most impressive part comes the weekend before the Derby. This includes the Derby Festival’s Great Balloon Race. The sky is filled with colourful hot-air balloons and is something to behold.
The Kentucky Derby Museum has a lot of interesting memorabilia including a number of the winning silks. The progression in silks styles over the years can be seen.
A tradition to wear pink on Kentucky Oaks day on the Friday has expanded into a breast cancer awareness day, so these days there is a sea of pink at the Friday meeting.
Many people spend the whole weekend at the Kentucky Derby in their rectreational vehicles (RVs) parked at Derby Park and other camping grounds.
It is always a good weekend to see celebrities close up, as they flock to the big race, although they are likely to book Millionaire Row tickets.
Derby parties take place around the country in which friends dress up in traditional Kentucky Derby fashion and gather. Mint juleps are always part of the fare and hot browns and burgoo probably are too.
The bugle call to the post on course, the same one as is heard around the world, reminds patrons to get in the betting queue which are usually very long .
Picture: Jockey Sonny Leon, trainer Eric Reed and owner Rick Dawson with the pure gold Kentucky Derby trophy last Saturday (thespec.com).