Happy Derby day!

My friend and horse racing enthusiast Holly is my go-to for Derby picks. She follows the industry much more closely than me, has published several papers and will publish a book on the relationship between social media and racing, and once met Gina’s great-grandsire Affirmed. In my book, that makes her qualified to tell me who to place my bets on.

There you have it: based on which horse’s people are basically good, you can wager on California Chrome, Wicked Strong, Wildcat Red, Samraat, and Uncle Sigh. While you may or may not make much money, you can rest assured you’ll “have the righteous sense that good has triumphed over evil.”
Happy Derby Day, everyone! 
Disclaimer: Neither Holly nor I are responsible if you lose your life savings following this advice.

The Hand Gallop guide to throwing a Derby party

The Kentucky Derby is fast approaching, and I’m putting together the details for my annual Derby party. While I don’t know much about horse racing, I can always appreciate beautiful Thoroughbreds and the speed and power they display. (Plus, I like to imagine which ones would make good eventers.) For the last couple of years, I’ve hosted or co-hosted a party for friends to watch the race. I thought I’d share some tips on throwing your own!

Derby Party 2012

Invitations: In order to have a party, you have to let people know it’s happening! There are plenty of places to buy invitations designed especially for the Derby, but I enjoy designing my own and mailing or emailing them to friends. A text, call, or Facebook message is also just as effective! 
This year’s invitation, sans some information.

Food & beverages: I’m in the Central Time Zone, which means Derby post time is usually around 5:30 PM. It’s an awkward time for a meal; people are starting to get hungry for dinner, but don’t want to eat something big quite yet. It doesn’t help that our house is small and without a lot of seating for guests to sit and eat. I make sure to have plenty of finger foods available. People can eat what they’d like while standing or perching on the edge of the sofa, and no one goes home hungry.

For me, the key to a successful and stress-free party is preparation. I stick exclusively to recipes that can be prepared a day or two in advance to the Derby. Some of my favorites include deviled eggs, individual cups of pasta salad, small pimento cheese sandwiches, vegetables and dip, fruit and dip, and crostini with a variety of toppings. I always make a bourbon chocolate pecan pie for dessert; this year I’m making mini pies so they’re easier to eat. I cook everything myself because I enjoy doing so, but most grocery stores offer a large variety of snacks to serve if you aren’t a fan of cooking.

Mint juleps are par for the course at the Derby, but I absolutely hate them. I made a batch the first year I hosted a party; no one had anything good to say about them. (It’s entirely possible I made them poorly, too.) I encourage guests to bring what they’d like to drink. I offer water, sparkling water, a few types of soda, sweet and unsweet tea, and one type of alcoholic drink. Last year it was whiskey sours; this year it’s a whiskey punch. That saves me from stocking all kinds of alcohol and spending a great deal of money.

Decor: The Derby is the run for the roses; I stick with red as the central color of the party. Red paper plates, red napkins, red cups, a vase of roses on the food table. My house already has plenty of equestrian decorations, so there’s no need to get anything special. The Kentucky Derby Store offers many decorations if you’re inclined to go all out.

Vibe: Do you want a casual get-together where everyone watches the race, has a few drinks, and goes home? Do you want a fancy soiree with big hats, sundresses, and cocktails? Our party is somewhere in between. While plenty of friends wear sundresses and big hats, just as many come in jeans and t-shirts. Johnny wears loud madras pants and a button-down shirt. I wear a dress and big floppy hat. Last year, a friend wore a SpiritHood, which freaked one of the cats out to no end. If you’re planning a fancy party, be sure to mention it on your invitation! And don’t be upset if someone doesn’t comply; after all, aren’t you glad they attended at all?

The race: A few hours before the party, I print off the race card (copied into Word from the Derby website or Daily Racing Form site) so guests can have a copy. My friend Holly has a TwinSpires.com account and graciously lets interested people use it to wager. (She’s something of a horse-racing expert, so I always make sure to ask her for advice.) We leave the TV on pre-race coverage while everyone’s getting something to eat and drink. At post time, everyone gathers in the living room and watches the most exciting two minutes in sports, cheering for horses and griping when they lose (or celebrating when they win). We’re fortunate to have a gigantic (if ancient) TV, so there’s not a bad seat in the house.

That’s it! The party usually breaks up about half an hour after the race is over, and then I collapse and drink the leftover alcohol. It’s a wonderfully fun party, always. I love offering my hospitality to friends, admiring fast horses, and eating my weight in cheese-heavy foods.

Anyone else have a Derby party? Any predictions on who’s going to win this year? Any advice for getting my dogs to not fart while guests are here?