The Kentucky Derby
"The most exciting two minutes in sports"
a kate west reflection
I spent my childhood in Louisville, Kentucky and the thing we are most proud of there, of course, is Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Oh, and mint juleps.
My father says Kentucky is a good place to be from. He prefers the ocean. And liberalism. But as a child I loved it all, even the extreme weather, the snow days staying home from school and the humid summers that come with that cicada tsss-tsss-tsss sound. Real south, man, and yes that grass really is blue. I never got to go to the Kentucky Derby (not yet, anyway), but I've been to many horse parks and to Churchill Downs itself, off season. It is a magnificent racetrack, with those famous spires and that spotless track. I loved horses as a child (what girl didn't?) and read plenty of "Black Stallion" and every other horse book I could get my hands on. Horse racing seemed romantic to me back then. I don't really feel that way anymore, except once a year, during the Kentucky Derby.
Run the first Saturday of every May since the late 1890's, it is indeed a blink-of-an-eye two minute race, this sport of kings. For competing two to three-year olds only, it's "The Run For The Roses" and is part of the Triple Crown, which also includes the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Ladies wear big hats, everyone sings Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" and by God, they all drink mint juleps (recipe below). With enough money, you can sit old school style, unless you want to try the cheap seats (think bleachers) in the infield, but I'm too old to jostle with that rowdy crowd.
It's one of the few elegant sports we have left in America, often written about and filmed. It sure does provide great cinematic drama, as we hold our breaths right down to the wire (the finish line). A long line of quality horse breeding precedes the modern version, from Triple-Crown winner Secretariat to poor Barbaro (so recently put down). You don't have to be a Racing Form expert to enjoy the spectacle and whether or not you finish Win, Place or Show, it's the best horse race around.
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water (branch water is ideal)
Premium Kentucky Bourbon (2 ounces per serving)
Make a simple mint syrup by boiling sugar and water together for 5 minutes; cool. Place in a covered container with 6 or 8 bruised mint sprigs. Refrigerate overnight. Fill a julep cup or glass with crushed ice, then add 1 tablespoon of mint syrup and 2 ounces of bourbon. (Bruise mint by placing in a cup and gently passing the back of a spoon between cup and the leaves a time or two.)Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost outside of cup or glass. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig. Keep remaining covered syrup in refrigerator sans mint leaves.
Read More About It:
The Kentucky Derby: Run for the Roses
The Mint Julep:
Kentucky Mint Julep