Enjoy a day at the races without leaving town

Jockey Calvin Borel celebrates after winning the KY Derby aboard longhsot Mine That Bird. By Pat McDonogh, The Courier-Journal, May 2, 2009

Get ready for “the most exciting two minutes in sports” coming up on May 6, as 32 horses prepare to run for the roses at the 143rd Kentucky Derby.

While nothing compares to the heart-thumping action and thunderous moments at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, this premiere horse-racing event is celebrated by people across the country. And as a Louisville-area native, I’m here to give you the scoop on how you can celebrate like a true derby fan right here in Grand Junction.

Tulips and Juleps Derby Party

If you want to get out and mingle with other Derby lovers, you won’t want to miss the fourth annual Tulips and Juleps Derby Party from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.

With the race on the big screen, Southern cuisine catered by Cowboy and the Rose, raffles, a silent auction and mint juleps—the signature beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby—this community event is the closest you’ll get to the real thing in Mesa County.

“It’s a great deal for us and a great event,” said STRiVE Development Vice President Douglas Sorter. “We have a huge amount of committee members who are very engaged and have been really instrumental making [the event] what it is.”

Tulips and Juleps is the biggest fundraiser for STRiVE’s child and family services. Last year’s event brought in over 300 people and raised $34,000. This year, they hope to boost attendance to 400.

Tulips and Juleps tickets are $35 and can be purchased online at strivecolorado.org/child-and-family-services or by calling 243-3702.

Feeling lucky?

For those interested in actually betting on the Kentucky Derby and the races held throughout the day, consider stopping by the off-track betting site at Bank 8 Billiards, 2460 Patterson Road.

Bank 8 coincides its schedule on Derby Day with that of Churchill Downs, opening at 8:15 a.m. The winner of a hat contest will get a $50 voucher that can be cashed in or used for betting. Race programs will be available for $2 and mint juleps for $4.50. All ladies will get a free rose.

Celebrate anywhere

Don’t feel like leaving the house? No problem. Bring the excitement of the Kentucky Derby home to you. Turn the channel to NBC prior to post time, which is 6:34 p.m. EST (4:34 for us). Invite some friends, put up some shade in the backyard and buy the ingredients for mint juleps, including a bottle of good bourbon.

Consider making traditional derby food, such as beaten biscuits with country ham, burgoo (a stew made with a variety of meats and vegetables) and hot browns (an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich covered in Mornay sauce that’s baked or broiled until the bread is crisp).

It’s all about the hats
(and bowties)

Ladies, wear a nice dress but remember, your outfit won’t be complete without a fine Kentucky Derby hat. Since these fancy hats aren’t as easy to find in Grand Junction, clients of STRiVE Colorado have created some stunning hats that are for sale at Uniquely Yours and The Palette downtown on Main Street.

You can also choose from over 1,100 custom-made hats at Grand Junction Western Wear, located at 2718 Highway 50.

If you’re the creative type, you can even pick up supplies at a local craft store and make your own—just remember, flowers and ribbons make a great derby hat.

The big fashion focus for men is the bowtie. Even if you’d never be caught dead wearing one before, it’s for the derby—live a little!

No matter where you are, the Kentucky Derby is a fun day to celebrate. So get out there and go, baby, go!

A little bit of history

Now a world-renowned affair, the Kentucky Derby started off as a small, regional event until the early part of the 20th century. Ronnie Dreistadt, manager of education services at the Kentucky Derby Museum, explained that when the Kentucky Derby began in 1875, New York was the “pinnacle of American horse racing” until Louisville businessman Matt Winn took over as president of Churchill Downs in 1902.

“The pivotal year was 1915, when a wealthy east coast businessman named Harry Payne Whitney won the derby with a filly named Regret,” Dreistadt said. “He claimed that he didn’t care if she never won another race—this was the one they wanted.”

Since then, the Kentucky Derby has become the crème de la crème of horse racing. Back home in Louisville, derby-related events begin in March and most schools and businesses close for the Oaks Day (the Friday before the derby).

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