Since I moved to the Lexington area, Derby Day has become my favorite “local holiday”.
I didn’t really follow horse racing except for occasionally catching the derby on TV. Then, when I moved, I met some wonderful people who introduced me to the racing world, and gave me some excellent tips on picking the derby winner out of the 20-horse field. I decided this would be the perfect time to share some of that advice, as well as some suggestions for those of you who are interested in horse racing and celebrating the annual event!
- Follow the Road to the Kentucky Derby and if you plan on betting on the horses, take note of who places (that is, which horses come in first, second, and third) in each race. This will help you familiarize who is in contention!
- Follow Steve Haskins’ weekly Derby Dozen article! He gives excellent tips and information on the horses, providing insight that isn’t readily available to the general public. (It’s not too late to scan through the last article of the year!)
- Check out the Daily Racing Form headlines for analyses of each derby prep race to gain extra insight, as well as headline reports of the horses and their connections.
- Watch the prep races! It’s more exciting to catch them in real time, but there are usually replays available to study. Keep an eye on your favorites, and note how they do. Did they run to the front? Come from behind? Get jostled and bumped by other horse and riders? Did they appear exhausted towards the end of the race? Knowing these details will help you predict how the horse will run in the large field of twenty horses at the derby.
- Once you’ve picked a horse (or however many you want, I usually pick a top three and a long shot to bet on), learn more about them. I like to know who their sires (their fathers) are, who their owners are, and what farm bred them. They don’t call this the sport of kings for no reason, and names carry a lot of weight in the elite racing industry. I also like to find out specifically where the horses like to run in the racing field, and which position they draw in the starting gate. The numbers on the gate go from 1-20, and the lower the number, the closer to the inside of the track the horse is. The inside of the track is a shorter distance to run than the outside of the track, and therefore the horses who get to the inside quicker will have to exert less energy than the ones running toward the outside of the track. Sometimes, a bad position draw will be enough for me choose one horse over another as my absolute favorite.
When the first Saturday in May officially arrives, and if you’ve done your due diligence, then you’ll have a horse (or maybe a few) in mind that you’ll be ready to put your money on! This is where the fun begins! Now, I’m really, really terrible about betting money, mostly because I’d rather keep the money that I have rather than bet to make more. Also, I’m not a very lucky person in that sense of things. SO, I’m not going to tell you how to bet your money, but I advise you to check out Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies! Haha, I’m not calling anyone a dummy, but this is the simplest explanation I think you can get! Personally, I like to bet $2 to win on my favorite horses as a keepsake incase they win, and I’ll also spend the $6 for a win/place/show on my long-shot horse. Sometimes it pans out and I’ll make a few bucks, and sometimes it doesn’t but I can easily recoup that $6!
The other big part about derby day is the celebration of the event. Traditional points to note:
- Attire- This includes donning classy spring dresses and over-the-top hats, seersucker suits and dockers, and basically pretending you are classy folk, even if you aren’t, haha!
- Food & Drink- “derby pie” which includes bourbon, chocolate, and walnuts; mini hot browns, a strangely delish blend of bread, cheese, ham, and bacon; bourbon balls, which are like chocolate truffles with a kick; and of course, mint juleps. This is blasphemy I’m sure, but I actually don’t care for mint juleps, and from what I’ve heard, they’re an acquired taste. I prefer to just leave everything but the bourbon out, haha.
- Singing “My Old Kentucky Home”- the official state song of the Kentucky commonwealth. There really is something about being with a thousands of fellow racegoers and drunkenly stumbling along the lyrics- it’s actually pretty emotional, though that could be the juleps. (I’m just kidding about the drunkenness.) Want to impress your friends at smaller gatherings? Here are the lyrics– sing along through the second chorus!
- Roses- The derby is associated with two sayings: “The Run for the Roses” and “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.” If you’re having a derby party at home, don’t forget to incorporate roses in the decorations mix!
Last but not least, if you’ve caught the racing bug after all the excitement of Derby, here is a recommended list of racing-related reading!
- Ruffian, Burning From the Start by Jane Schwartz
- Affirmed by Lou Sahadi
- Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda by Dave Feldman
- Secretariat by William Nack
- Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
- Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach
- Three Strides Before the Wire by Elizabeth Mitchell
- The Horse God Built by Lawrence Scanlan