Spring is upon us. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, the bees are buzzing... and the horses are running! Saturday, May 4 is the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, an institution in American culture that is often referred to as "the most exciting 2 minutes in sports". Surrounding that two minutes is a whole week of pomp and ceremony, as you might expect :) Everyone wants to feel like they have gotten their money's worth, I think.
Horse racing is a sport that attracts the rich and the aspiring - who wouldn't want to bet a buck or ten on a horse that could pay 91 to 1? (Donerail, the horse that won in 1913, had just those odds!) What about breaking records? Secretariat has held the record for the fastest time, and is only one of four horses to ever finish the race in under 2 minutes. Of course, with all that money and bragging rights in play, everyone wants to look their best. The ladies wear hats and elegant outfits, and the gentlemen often wear stylish suits. Perhaps this is a borrowed tradition from older race events like the Royal Ascot in England. In North America we tend to be more relaxed; there is a whole page on the website dedicated to dress code for Royal Ascot (it even depends on where you are sitting). Nevertheless, a bit of ceremony to make a party special is always fun, and the Kentucky Derby has its own traditions you might enjoy.
Have you ever sipped on a Mint Julep? If not, Derby Day is a great excuse :) It's a Saturday, so you're probably not working. Fair warning: plan your bet before you start sipping - this is a beverage that is not for the faint at heart. If you're game, here's the recipe:
Muddle mint leaves, powdered sugar, and water in a chilled glass until sugar dissolves (traditionally a silver cup, but a metal or glass vessel will do). Fill the glass with shaved or crushed ice and add bourbon. Top with more ice and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve with a straw.
You don't have to drink - if food is more your thing, how about some burgoo? This rich "social stew" full of all kinds of good stuff is a traditional dish in the midwest and the south. It traditionally was more of a harvest meal and contained any meat available (the references list such local delicacies as "venison, squirrel, opossum, raccoon or game birds") - often each person attending the function would bring an ingredient. Today it is prepared by many barbecue restaurants with beef, pork, chicken or mutton along with beans and assorted vegetables, and secret spice blends that make each recipe a hearty signature dish. The perfect accompaniment is cornbread. (I'm thinking it's worth a go - click on the link above if you want to see the recipe I'm using.)
Here in Kelowna we don't have a racetrack but there is racing in Penticton, Vernon and Osoyoos. In Vancouver, the Hastings racetrack is celebrating 125 years this season. If you're out and about, a fun afternoon can be had at the races, even if you don't want to find a hat to wear. If you're staying in, what's 2 minutes of your afternoon... Why not toast a historical event?
In case you're reading this after Saturday, don't dismay. You can still participate in the fun, by sticking to the excuse that you are celebrating the Triple Crown. The Preakness and the Belmont Stakes run in the week following the Derby, and although they are not as popular they still hold an important place in racing tradition. Who knows, maybe this year we will have a Triple Crown winner again. It hasn't happened since 1978, when Affirmed took the Crown.