While many of you are putting the finishing touches on your Derby hats for a day at Churchill on Saturday, the rest of us are getting ready to attend a Derby party, and likely shaking our fists at the weather forecast. Since settling in Nashville in 2006, I’ve hosted a Derby party each year, eager to educate our southern neighbors to the event’s traditions and generally make them feel inferior to Kentuckians. From years of chastising people about not wearing hats and worrying about rain, here are some DOs and DON’Ts for hosting a successful Derby party:
DO plan for rain — Let’s face it: the forecast for Saturday sucks, at least in Nashville. Even if you’re only supposed to get “isolated showers” in your area, prepare for rain. Put up some tailgating tents and put any outdoor cushions/furniture under cover until just before your party starts to be safe. If it’s a wash out like it’s supposed to be here, have it inside and make the best of it. It wouldn’t be the Derby without the threat of rain, so just deal with it.
DO make a signature drink — Five years ago, I made “bourbonade” as an alternative to mint juleps for my Derby guests. After my guests tasted it, they forgot all about the juleps. Since then, it’s become a Thompson party staple, and was even the signature cocktail at our wedding. Here’s the recipe so you can make your own:
Mrs. T’s Bourbonade
2 cups ice tea (unsweetened)
1/2 cup sugar or Splenda
1 12 oz can frozen lemonade
1 12 oz can frozen limeade
1 750 ml bottle of bourbon
7 cups water
Mix all ingredients and chill. Makes one gallon
DO offer mint juleps — Mint juleps are both an acquired and required taste. I realize that’s kind of hard to believe for Kentuckians, to whom the bourbon drink is practically a rite of passage, but it’s not for everyone. While any Derby party should have at least the Maker’s Mark Mint Julep mix for its guests, it is best to provide an alternative for those who can’t handle it. Bourbonade FTW.
DON’T leave your designated drivers and sober pals hanging — Make sure to have some non-alcoholic beverages as well. Go beyond the standard two-liters of soda with lemonade, iced tea, or sparkling water.
DO pace yourself if you’re hosting — Look, I’ve been there. You’re hosting a party, which means you’re setting up all day, cooking, cleaning, polishing silver julep cups, etc. By the time the party rolls around, you don’t just want one drink, you want all the drinks. But, being a drunk host has its pitfalls…all stupid decisions become rational and in the morning, you’ve got a mountain of cleanup to go with your hangover. Pace yourself throughout the night and you’ll be happier the next day for it. Or don’t. This is the one tip I usually ignore anyways.
DON’T make a ton of food — After years of hosting parties, I’ve learned that it’s wise to not make a ton of snacks yourself, because most people bring their own. We are huge supporters of the potluck theory of partying, which not only takes the burden off the host, but lets people show off their favorite foods. One year, I slaved over Derby pie, country ham and biscuits, deviled eggs, etc. only to be faced with a giant table full of leftovers the next day. If you’re encouraging your friends to bring a side dish, keep it simple with a few snacks, like chips and dip or pigs in a blanket. You’ll thank yourself later.
DO have at least one Derby pie — Derby pie is sinfully delicious. If you don’t have a family recipe, here’s a good one. Your guests will thank you for it.
DON’T forget extra TP — You know what you can never have enough of during a party? Toilet paper.
DO encourage your guests to wear hats — It’s not a Derby party without some great hats and a best hat contest. Provide some cheap, silly hats for your guests who don’t wear one. Liquor Barn usually has some cheap plastic jockey hats for cheap.
DON’T dress like a slacker — The Derby comes around once a year. Put down the denim and pick up the seersucker. Are you a guy who’s been thinking of trying out a new pastel button-down? I can think of no better occasion. Humor your significant other by letting her think you care…she’ll thank you for it later.
DO have a coloring contest — One of my friends’ favorite parts about our Derby parties is the annual coloring contest. And yes, we are all grown adults (for the most part), but who doesn’t love to color? Make it interesting by offering a small prize for the winner (chocolate or a small pint of bourbon usually does the trick). Obviously, if kids are in attendance, they’ll love it too.
DO have a big betting board — Make a large betting board with each horse’s name, post position, trainer, jockey, owner, silks and odds on it. Have guests pay a dollar per horse they want to bet on and write their initials by their choice. Pick someone to be “the bank” and have them collect the money, which will be divvied up at the end. Give that extra KSR kick with a section for each task in “The Ryan Lemond Derby.”
DON’T be that annoying person who pretends to know everything about horse racing — Don’t get me wrong: horse racing knowledge is good. As Kentuckians, it is our duty to educate the masses on how to bet, Derby traditions, and the beauty of the sport. But, you don’t want to be that obnoxious person lecturing people about bloodlines, training runs, and trainers. No one likes a know-it-all.
DO sing “My Old Kentucky Home” proudly — You didn’t learn the lyrics in grade school for nothing. And, if you don’t get chills when the crowd’s chorus of “Weep no more my lady” swells across Churchill, DON’T consider yourself a true Kentuckian.
Did I miss something? I’m sure I did. Share your favorite Derby party tips in the comments section.