One of the oldest and shortest sporting events in the United States is held in May. The attending ladies and gentlemen are decked out in their finest and most elegant apparel for this major event. Most importantly are the hats – the ladies have made it a tradition to sport their most appealing and extravagant head pieces. Have you guessed the sporting event? Okay, a few more hints – the drink of the day is the Mint Julep and “My Old Kentucky Home” is played while the “players” are led to the starting gate. Now you got it – the world famous Kentucky Derby. This American event was initiated by Meriweather Lewis Clark, Jr. – the grandson of William Clark. Remember Lewis and Clark? In 1803, President Jefferson finalized the Louisiana Purchase and asked them to find the northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, he was the grandson of that famous explorer. After visiting England and attending the Epsom Derby event, Clark Jr. was inspired to start a tradition in Kentucky, which was known for its ability to breed fine race horses. With a gift of land from his Uncle Henry Churchill, the first race was run in 1875 with 10,000 spectators. By 1883, the race track was named Churchill Downs. The annual event became so popular that a grandstand was built in 1894 to accommodate the large crowds. Originally, the track was 1.5 miles long, but it was later reduced to 1.25 miles (it was thought that the 1.5 miles was too long for the 3-year-old horses). In 1904, another tradition was added when the red rose became the official flower of the race. The winning horse is presented with a blanket of 554 roses to wear. You may have heard the Derby referred to as “the running for the roses” – now you know why. But, the Kentucky Derby is just the beginning of the stakes, with the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes following. Collectively, these three events make up the Triple Crown. There have only been twelve triple crown winners, including Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and American Pharaoh, to name a few. So much excitement and build-up for a few short minutes, but those minutes can make or break a horse owner, breeder and trainer. Horse racing is big business, so this year, if you are not near Kentucky, tune in on the TV, radio or internet, mix yourself up a Mint Julep, and enjoy the race. I found a recipe for mint juleps on the internet, so, if you are not driving, be adventuresome and give it a try: 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water, mint sprigs, Kentucky Whiskey and crushed ice. Make a syrup of the sugar and water (boil 5 minutes) add mint and refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to make the drink, add crushed ice, a tablespoon of the mint syrup you made the day before, and 2 ounces of Kentucky Whiskey – stir rapidly and add a mint leaf for garnish. So, put on your best hat, sip those cold drinks, and enjoy the race this year on Saturday, May 7. But you’d better not blink, because those two exciting minutes pass fast!
Photo by Cheryl Ann Quigley / shutterstock.com