The Kentucky Derby is very special. It is, no doubt, a rite of passage for the best 3-year-old horses in the world. But on a more national level it is the highly anticipated harbinger of the summer season, with parties and celebrations all over the country as we all gather to watch the most exciting two minutes in sports.
I have happy memories of watching the race with my parents, as we made playful bets based on watching the horses strut down the entrance to the course with their colorfully attired jockeys astride. To this day, my dear 91-year old mother in Boston calls me up to see what horses I’m favoring and inquiring where she can make a bet.
It’s been 36 years since a horse last completed the fabled Triple Crown, winning the Derby, followed by the Preakness in Baltimore and culminating the third leg with the Belmont in New York--all in a period of five weeks. California Chrome, the favored horse in Louisville this past Saturday, did indeed win, and is hoping to be the first horse since Affirmed to capture the coveted Triple Crown. A dozen horses have won the first two legs since Affirmed earned the crown in 1978, only to slip up on the final leg. Only 11 horses have won all three races since 1919.
The victory seemed like a regular occurrence when I became interested in horse racing in the ‘70s. Secretariat won in 1973, followed by Seattle Slew in ’77 and Affirmed in ‘78, and we began to take it for granted that there would be another champion every few years. That was not to be, as we’ve seen such Derby and Preakness winners lose in the Belmont, with names you might recall, like Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Silver Charm, Charismatic, Smarty Jones and I’ll Have Another, as recently as 2012.
Though I’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby, it is definitely on my bucket list‑‑to see the race of course‑‑but as much to wear a pretty outfit topped by a fabulous hat. I’ve watched those ladies stroll around Churchill Downs sipping the obligatory mint juleps for many years and have longed to join their fashion parade and accompanying festivities. When they play the classic anthem, “My Old Kentucky Home,” before the race I still sing along with them and get goosebumps.
Last November, I had the pleasure of attending the Australian equivalent of our Derby, the Melbourne Cup, with my fiancé who happens to live there. I had more fun planning the outfit and finding just the right hat, which I almost literally stumbled upon in a consignment shop in Mornington outside of Melbourne just a few days before the big event! I had schlepped a huge hat box halfway across the world, and it never saw the light of day after I replaced it with my serendipitous fashion find. It was quite a chic extravaganza, with men joining in with the ladies in grand head-turning style, for a weekend of parties and races including their own fashion competitions called Fashions on the Field, where the designers win money and prizes. You know I found a way to wiggle into that show!
Aspen, as always, knows how to throw a party and we certainly presented well last Saturday--seersucker suits, chapeaux and all, at the always-party-ready Square Grouper on Restaurant Row. Capping off the last weekend of skiing on Aspen Mountain, we came off the hill, donned our de rigeur millinery in a creative ‘only-in-Aspen’ potpourri of spring ski outfits (which could be another whole article) combined with Derby-ready-to-wear and started imbibing the traditional mint juleps and betting on our favorite horses with the same joie de vivre as those attending the “Run for the Roses” classic down in Louisville. After the race, we all came up for air in the warm sunshine on the restaurant’s deck. No matter if your horse of choice won or lost‑‑though we were not down in our old Kentucky home‑‑we were happy to be just where we were.
Ending note: We wish California Chrome well in the upcoming Preakness May 7. Although history says the odds are stacked against him completing the Triple Crown, if he does, he will be the first California-bred colt to ever win it. If he can’t go the distance, I’m going with Boston favorite Wicked Strong.